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Teachers: Data-driven evaluations reveal distrust of educators

System that bases classroom success on standardized test scores will be difficult to implement, school board told

Photo Credit: REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - 'It's complicated, because you have to take what you know are good and complex goals and you have to corset them into the reform garment of the day,' said Laura Paxson Kluthe, Lake Oswego Education Association president.A new teacher evaluation system is time-consuming and includes labyrinthine and questionable processes for measuring professional growth that will be difficult to implement, according to the leader of the Lake Oswego Education Association.

Teachers’ union President Laura Paxson Kluthe told the Lake Oswego School Board last week that educators are concerned about the evaluations that will be used across the state this school year. Their numbers-driven approach provides inauthentic results, she said, and the assessments will be difficult and time-consuming to execute.

“It’s complicated, because you have to take what you know are good and complex goals and you have to corset them into the reform garment of the day,” Paxson Kluthe said.

She pointed specifically to a matrix used in the evaluations to measure professional growth. The matrix has an x axis based on student achievement growth (test scores), and a y axis based on professional practices and responsibilities. The x axis is where much of the controversy lies.

“The Oregon Department of Education has set in place a system that reveals a general distrust of both teachers and evaluators; otherwise, why would they come up with this complicated mathematical thing, this matrix that no one knows what to do with?” said Paxson Kluthe, a Lake Oswego High School social studies teacher. “It does reveal that distrust and an excessive fondness for Byzantine paperwork.”WENDLAND

School board member John Wendland asked Paxson Kluthe what evaluation system teachers would rather see.

“Do you ... have a vision of what that’s supposed to be?” Wendland asked.

Paxson Kluthe said the district should revert to the method previously used to evaluate teachers — outlined in the district’s Differentiated Program for Professional Growth — because it provided for a more holistic approach. For example, the old system said a competent teacher must identify “individual abilities, needs, interests and learning styles” of students, Paxson Kluthe said, allowing more room for a personal touch in classroom instruction.

Under the new system, teachers in English language arts and math will be evaluated on their students’ state assessment scores; other assessments such as SATs or scores on some school tests will be used to rate those who teach other subjects. However, schools have been granted a one-year reprieve on using student achievement growth in state assessments, and districts do have some flexibility when it comes to implementing the state’s framework for teacher evaluations.

“All evaluation systems have to align with the state-adopted teaching and leader standards and other requirements outlined in the framework,” said Crystal Greene, communications director for the Oregon Department of Education. “The framework provides common parameters for all districts, but the specific tools and procedures are determined by the district. For example, the districts determine how many observations (of teachers) they include.”

For districts to receive a waiver from requirements included in the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act and still receive federal funding, teachers of certain subjects in tested grade levels — for English language arts and math, that’s grades 3-8 and 11 — must attach their evaluation to state assessment data to show whether students’ scores improved from one year to the next.

The act requires that 100 percent of students gain the skills each state has determined all students must possess to be successful. With such a high bar, most states seek a waiver because they need federal dollars. In Oregon public schools, federal money is especially crucial, because state funding has been declining for decades. DUDEN

The new system may make it easier for districts to meet the requirements for a No Child Left Behind waiver, but Lake Oswego High School social studies teacher Andrew Duden said the evaluations’ adherence to data will not offer an accurate picture of what teachers do to guide each student’s personal growth.

Duden is also concerned about the teachers’ evaluators — administrators who he does not believe will have the time required to perform this level of analysis without additional staff. He’s just not sure how such a complicated system can be put in place.

“The biggest questions that remain are still questions of implementation,” he said.

A local evaluation committee is helping with that implementation; it includes teachers, principals and Donna Atherton, the Lake Oswego School District’s executive director of human resources. ATHERTON

“I think some of the challenge is just time management,” Atherton said, “having the time to meet as often as we need to with our teachers.”

She likes the emphasis the new evaluation system places on meeting with teachers.

“It’s just different than what we’ve done in the past, but we will figure it out,” she said.

Paxson Kluthe said the committee, which met the week before her school board presentation, has been convening for two years.

But even as the committee helps roll out the evaluations, she said, the process has been made more difficult because teachers and other detractors question the evaluations’ underlying validity. For now, she said, what’s key is for teachers and evaluators to be clear on requirements.

“If we can do that, it may ameliorate some of the high-level angst that is percolating in the teacher community,” she said, “though it does not improve a deeply flawed evaluation system designed by the state to achieve a waiver from No Child Left Behind.”

By Jillian Daley
503-636-1281, ext. 109
email: jdaley@lakeoswegoreview.com
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