A shift from NEA on teacher evaluations

Echoes Mass. vote tying assessments to student growth

By Martine Powers
Globe Correspondent / July 6, 2011

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A new policy from the country’s largest teachers’ union affirming for the first time that student achievement must be a factor in evaluating teachers validates the controversial evaluation criteria approved in Massachusetts last week, local education officials say.

The National Education Association, with more than 3.2 million members, passed its new policy Monday at its annual representative assembly in Chicago. The union’s stance followed a 9-2 vote by the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education last week asserting that public schools in the state must incorporate student achievement as a significant element in evaluating teachers and administrators.

“What [the NEA] did at a national level is very consistent with what we did here in Massachusetts,’’ Paul Reville, the state’s secretary of education, said yesterday. “I like to think that Massachusetts may have played a leadership role in the NEA’s policy.’’

Paul Toner, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said the NEA’s resolution demonstrates that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s decision was in line with sentiments around the country. By approving the policy, he said, the NEA gives credence to the idea that standardized tests can be one of many methods to measure teacher effectiveness.

Segun Eubanks, director of teacher quality for the NEA, said policies of Massachusetts, along with similar policies in other states, were read very carefully by members of a working group who crafted the NEA’s stance over the past six months.

“The work being done in Massachusetts definitely informed the work that was done to create this policy statement,’’ Eubanks said.

The NEA’s policy states that quality evaluations of teacher performance must take into account student growth, which “may include . . . high-quality developmentally appropriate standardized tests that provide valid, reliable, timely, and meaningful information regarding student learning and growth.’’

“This puts on record very clearly and forcefully that teachers’ responsibility for the growth and development of their students ought to be part of the evaluation process,’’ Eubanks said.

Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said he believes the NEA’s new teacher-evaluation guidelines are part of a regrettable trend. Although he believes that an “amorphous tie-in’’ between student performance and teacher evaluation is valuable, he worries that this policy will encourage state governments to institute more standardized tests in more subject areas as an easy way of assessing student growth.

“Policies like this promote standardization that isn’t productive for teaching students how to think,’’ Stutman said.

Rob Weil, director of field programs in the educational issues department at the American Federation of Teachers, which represents teachers in Boston, declined to comment specifically on the NEA’s new policy. Generally, he said, those participating in the education debate fail to recognize that standardized testing results cannot be applied in evaluations for the majority of teachers, either because their subject area does not have standardized tests, or because the tests are not administered yearly.

“Sometimes, people blow the value of standardized testing out of proportion,’’ Weil said.

Massachusetts is one of more than a dozen states that have approved policies mandating the use of student achievement measurements in judging teacher quality.

Kate Walsh, the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, said she believes the NEA’s new policy was a step in the right direction but does not give enough credence to the importance of student performance measurements. That, she said, is because of the union’s long-term unwillingness to support standardized testing as a means of assessing teacher quality.

“Rhetorically, it is significant that the NEA has gone this far because it’s light-years ahead of the statement that would have been made two years ago, so this has to be seen as progress,’’ Walsh said. “But there are still holes.’’

She contended that the NEA’s policy was an attempt to catch up to similar policies that have already been approved by state education commissions around the country, including the new criteria passed in Massachusetts.

“To stay in the game, to stay credible, the NEA really doesn’t have much of a choice,’’ Walsh said.

Eubanks disagreed. Though this is the first time the NEA has approved a formal statement affirming that student learning should be used in evaluating teachers, he said, the organization has been active in the discussion about the possibility for years.

“We had not been inactive before we had a policy,’’ Eubanks said. “But we felt we needed to have a clear statement.’’

Martine Powers can be reached at