Better and more frequent evaluation of teachers may improve achievement gap

The importance of better and more frequent evaluation of teachers is being debated in the Minnesota Legislature.

Chances are the Republican-dominated Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton are going to make some changes in the law governing how and how often the performance of classroom teachers in K-12 Minnesota schools is measured.

This is particularly important because legislators say they are concerned about the achievement gap in Minnesota, one of the worst in the country.

The achievement gap needs definition.  It is primarily the dramatic difference in how white and students of color score in standardized tests and high school graduation rates.

The assumption is if there were more higher quality teachers and fewer less effective teachers instructing students of color, they would perform better.

Further, the argument goes, the Public Labor Act (PELRA) prevents school administrators from getting rid of low-performing teachers.  Most school boards, they say, give up dismissing a teacher because the legal process is so long and expensive.

Legislators have a bill that would require teachers to be evaluated every five years and in one bill, 50 percent of that evaluation should be based on test scores.

Brenda Cassellius, Minnesota’s first Commissioner of Education of color, has a better approach, one we favor.

Most will agree that evaluating teachers in a systematic process is essential to weeding out low-performing teachers and rewarding high performing ones.

Cassellius told members of the ECM Editorial Board she favors assuring quality teachers by making it more difficult for teachers to renew their licenses every five years as is now required.

In order for teachers to get their first license, they must pass basic skills tests in reading, writing and mathematics, plus a test of content knowledge and a test in pedagogy.

To renew their license every five years, teachers must have a designated person in their district verify they have completed 125 clock hours of study.

Cassellius would add more “rigors” to the licensing process, such as more testing, an evaluation by their peers, perhaps a video of their teaching, test scores of their students, parent and student surveys.

Teachers would suffer consequences if their licenses were not renewed, because they could not teach in any school in the state.

The commissioner, a former principal and superintendent, says there should be more and frequent evaluation of teachers with a locally-produced process at the building level.  She warned, however, principals need to be trained better on how to evaluate a teacher’s performance.

Changing how teachers are evaluated needs to be a thoughtful process and not one that’s rushed through this session of the Legislature.

Commissioner Cassellius should take the lead with her thoughtful ideas particularly on making it more difficult for teachers to renew their license.  That process would more fairly weed out low-performing teachers and recognize the many high-performing ones.

Editor’s note: This editorial is a product of the ECM Editorial Board. The Isanti County News is a part of ECM Publishers Inc.