Wednesday, November 2, 2011

CMS tests still spark skepticism

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is building some support for its quest to do a better job of evaluating teachers and helping them develop their skills.  But the slew of new tests the district created last spring still seems to pose a barrier to public support for the  "talent effectiveness project."

That was my take-away from last night's public conversation on " How Should We Grade Our Teachers,"  sponsored by WFAE.  More than 100 people  --  most of them CMS teachers or parents, from the show of hands  --  turned out to talk with teachers and the district's human-resources chief.

Panelists Larry Bosc,  a teacher from East Meck,  and Courtney Mason,  a teacher from Piney Grove Elementary,  agreed the new state teacher evaluations are better than the old version, providing a broader view of what teachers do for their schools and students. Bosc,  however,  noted that they impose a huge time demand on the school administrators who have to perform them.

Mason,  a fourth-year teacher,  voiced enthusiasm for the latest quest to get teachers involved in figuring out how to gauge effectiveness and help teachers improve.  Bosc,  who has taught 34 years,  was more wary.  He said he fears talent effectiveness is just a new name for performance pay,  and decided not to commit 90 minutes a week through April to volunteer for a study group whose suggestions might be ignored.

Chief HR Officer Daniel Habrat insisted CMS is serious about learning from last year's mistakes and listening to teachers.  "We have an opportunity to correct a misstep and start anew," he said.

Panelists and audience members agreed on the need to respect and pay teachers like true professionals  --  though many said handing out small rewards based on performance means less than boosting the overall pay scale.  Most of the audience comments focused on the dozens of new year-end tests CMS launched last spring as part of its performance-pay push.  One mother cried as she talked about how the tests squeeze out time for art and music.

"What I have seen go on last spring and this fall I find totally unacceptable,"  she said.  "I promised my husband if I saw the same thing happen this spring,  I would pull  (our daughter)  and just home-school."

Habrat said as a CMS parent,  he was "not a fan" of last spring's testing,  either.  But he noted that the state is getting ready to develop additional tests,  which will also be used to evaluate teacher performance.  And he said the full slate of CMS testing will continue this spring,  though the tests should be somewhat shorter.

Ultimately,  it will be up to the school board and the new superintendent to decide how much testing the district will do beyond what the state requires.  Habrat told the group that if the district abandoned its new year-end tests, it would not derail the push to come up with better evaluations and support for teachers.

WFAE plans to post audio of the discussion and take comments on the topic at this site,  though it could take a day or two.

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