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Local: Education

Fairfax County teachers say new evaluations are excessive

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Local,Virginia,Education,Rachel Baye,Fairfax County

Fairfax County school leaders are taking a second look at a new teacher evaluation system after teachers said it is overly burdensome.

Roughly a quarter of teachers spend at least three hours a week preparing for their evaluations, according to a survey whose results were reviewed at a school board meeting Monday.

School board members expressed concern about the complaints they have been receiving about the new system.

"I could not have predicted the degree of the notes that were personally handed to me saying that, 'this is my worst teaching year ever,' and they were in their ... second or third decade of teaching," Springfield District representative Elizabeth Schultz said, describing interactions with teachers at recent town hall meetings. "We cannot allow this to continue."

Fairfax County Public Schools established the new evaluation system last year to meet the requirements of the Virginia Department of Education's waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law. Under state rules, 40 percent of a teacher's evaluation must be based on student achievement.

However, Schultz and other board members suggested they re-examine the state requirements.

"We need to look at the state and national requirements and push back as far as we can," said at-large school board member Ryan McElveen. "We need to lay out specifically what is required at the state level, because I think we will be blown away by what idiotic things they require of us."

Though the state board encourages districts to incorporate students' performance on the statewide Standards of Learning tests, Fairfax has opted instead to use a new measure designed specifically to meet the new requirements. The goals allow a teacher to set performance goals based on a class's curriculum. For example, a goal might be to have all students reading at or above grade-level.

Whether a teacher has met the goals is determined based on a combination of classroom observations and student performance. But keeping student performance records can mean an "excessive" time commitment from the teachers, said Fairfax County Federation of Teachers President Steven Greenburg.

Though a strong teacher could receive a full-fledged evaluation once every three years, the new system is intended to provide constant feedback and evaluations, with principals observing classes year-round, said Fairfax Education Association President Michael Hairston.

Since the evaluations are being used the first time this school year, teachers spent as many as 20 hours training on the new system, Hairston said.

The system is overly burdensome for principals, too, Greenburg added, noting that the deadline for midyear evaluations was extended twice. "If I have a teacher evaluation system that I can't even get the midyear ... until March, then what is the effectiveness of that? If midyear you're not doing well, then we want to give you time to improve."

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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