COLUMBIA South Carolina state education superintendent Mick Zais and educators are fighting bitterly over a proposal to give letter grades to teachers based, in part, on how students improve on standardized testing.
The proposal by Zais, a retired Army general and former college president who is in his first term as the state’s Republican schools superintendent, has led to accusations of ill will.
Teachers say Zais does not understand the challenges they face. Zais says the teachers – and school administrators and the state Board of Education, who also object to parts of the plan – are threatening South Carolina’s next big move to improve public education.
Some teachers say Zais’ plan is unfair because it would evaluate them, in part, on students’ test scores in courses that they don’t teach.
“That’s really alarming to me,” said Kent Riddle, a child development and kindergarten teacher at Angel Oak Elementary on Johns Island in Charleston County. “If I’m going to be evaluated, I want to be evaluated on what I do, on my results, not someone else’s.”
Riddle and other educators also are upset because they say they have had no input in shaping the plan.
Teachers’ groups, allied with the S.C. Association of School Administrators, are working on an alternative plan, recently presented to the S.C. Board of Education. It’s still “a work in progress,” as the group seeks “buy in” from educators, the organization’s executive director Mary Spearman said.
But Zais says the teachers are playing politics, urging them and the Board of Education not to reject the evaluation plan before there are results to consider from the first of two years of pilot testing now under way.
“You don’t redesign a plane in the middle of a test flight,” Zais said last week of the plan, currently being “beta” tested in 22 schools.
The educators’ criticisms come months before the state will have results from the first year of testing the proposed teacher and principal evaluation system, not slated for statewide use until the 2014 school year. Next year, education officials will assess the results of the test program, revise the evaluation system, accordingly, and test the program again in several school districts.
Before going into effect statewide, the state Board of Education must approve the evaluation system, which hasn’t been formally presented for a vote to the board. That will come after more testing, said Jay Ragley, spokesman with the S.C. Department of Education.
But opposition has been building in the education community, including tense meetings education officials have hosted recently across the state.
At its December meeting, the S.C. Board of Education passed a resolution saying the plan “would not provide valid, reliable or meaningful data on teacher or principal performance and would be counterproductive.”
Zais called the nonbinding resolution premature.