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Local: Education

Fairfax teachers struggle with new evaluations

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Photo - Students at Thomas Jefferson High School in Fairfax. (Examiner file photo)
Students at Thomas Jefferson High School in Fairfax. (Examiner file photo)
Local,Virginia,Education,Lisa Gartner

Some Fairfax County teachers said they plan to resort to "cheating" to perform well on new evaluations introduced this fall that link their ratings to student achievement, according to a survey by the teachers union.

"Honestly, I feel as though [Fairfax County Public Schools] is putting me in a difficult position -- my job is on the line so what do I need to do to make my students perform well. Guess what, this is GOING to lead to some staff cheating and/or cutting corners," one teacher commented on the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers survey, which more than 450 teachers responded to in October.

Fairfax County implemented a new teacher evaluation system this year that bases 40 percent of ratings on student achievement data, under a requirement in the Virginia Department of Education's application for relief from No Child Left Behind.

Fairfax pledged to allow its teachers to set their own performance goals for students, called "SmartR goals," which can go beyond the typical standardized-test benchmarks to requirements involving enrollment or end-of-course exams.

But as the Oct. 31 deadline to submit these passed, union President Steven Greenburg said most teachers were confused and overwhelmed by the amount of work they needed to do for their evaluations.

When asked for their top evaluation gripe, 32 percent of teachers said, "There is not enough time to do it correctly" while 25 percent said, "The evaluation system itself is 'broken' and will not accomplish its purpose."

Schools spokesman John Torre said teachers were included in the task force that helped to redesign the teacher evaluation process. "It is expected that teachers and evaluators will agree on goals that set reasonable expectations for both instructors and their students," Torre said in an email.

Still, when asked if the training and documentation were making them better teachers, 72 percent said no.

Some teachers said they were planning to cut corners on another new portion of the evaluations, which requires teachers to provide documentation, dubbed "artifacts," that they're doing a good job.

"I spent six hours today gathering data ... I was seriously thinking of 'cheating' since I really believe that that time could have been better spent planning out how to reach some of my students," one teacher wrote. "I am cheating my family also -- I got home at 7 p.m. I am sure I am not the only one thinking this way."

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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