SC education officials present evaluation plans

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Education officials tried to reassure teachers and principals Monday that a statewide system evaluating their performance is still years away and will involve much more than test scores.

Roughly 400 educators filled a Columbia middle school auditorium for the last in a series of public meetings on Superintendent Mick Zais' proposals, currently being preliminarily tested in 22 schools. Similar gatherings were held in Beaufort, Greenville, Charleston and Florence.

"This is a proposed draft system. It's important to emphasize that," said Charmeka Bosket, deputy superintendent of policy and research.

The overall goal is to develop an evaluation system that recognizes excellent teachers and improves other teachers' effectiveness by pinpointing the training they need, Zais said after the two-hour meeting. He has said the system will also weed out teachers who need to find another career.

Evaluating educators based on performance is a required part of the state's exemption from the all-or-nothing provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind law. The U.S. Education Department approved South Carolina's application in July.

But educators worry how their performance will be judged, particularly how students' growth over a school year will be determined. Many are especially concerned about part of their evaluation coming from the performance of their entire school.

Teachers also don't like the idea of getting letter grades. State Board of Education leaders said last month they have no intention of approving letter grades for the evaluation system set to start statewide in 2014.

Bosket assured educators that nothing in the proposal ties evaluations to salaries. Discussions over a pay-for-performance system, which would need legislative approval, are separate, she said.

Jonathan Wilburn, a teacher at R.H. Fulmer Middle School, said he was glad to hear that salaries aren't tied to the evaluations. But he still worries they will be in the future. He said too many variables, including a student's home life and behavior issues, can affect students' performance.

"I feel like I'm being graded on something someone else is going to do," he said.

Other teachers fear the double whammy of being evaluated under a new system in the same year that students will be tested on new standards in math and reading.

"It's terrifying," said Fulmer math teacher Sarah Conwell.

Under the current proposal, the largest component of teacher evaluations would be classroom observations and performance, to include student growth not based on standardized testing. The so-called Teacher Evaluation and Performance Scale, or TOPS, would make up 60 percent of the grade for teachers of tested subjects and 70 percent for other teachers. Other subcategories for TOPS include planning, instruction, and professionalism. For those teachers of subjects with high-stakes tests, the growth of their students over the school year would make up 30 percent of their grade, while the school's overall performance would make up 10. For other teachers, 30 percent of their grade would be the school's performance.

Last month, the state Association of School Administrators presented an alternate evaluation proposal to the state Board of Education.

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