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Special Educators Call For Leeway In Judging Performance

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With increased focus on teacher performance, a leading group of special educators is warning that assessing the work they do in the classroom requires a more nuanced approach.

Special education teachers must be evaluated based on the complexities of the student population they work with, according to a new position statement from the Council for Exceptional Children, a professional organization that advocates on behalf of special educators.

Schools need to be especially careful when attempting to grade teachers based on the growth of their students with disabilities, the group said. Additionally, evaluations should be conducted by experienced special educators and they ought to take into account the varying abilities of the particular teacher’s students.

“We know that special educators have a unique and complex role within schools that is not often well understood, so we are trying to help states and districts appropriately incorporate special education teachers into new evaluation systems,” said Margaret L. McLaughlin president of CEC.

Teacher evaluations are becoming increasingly significant in light of Race to the Top and other recent education initiatives. However, assessments are a particularly sticky issue for educators who work with students with disabilities given that their role may take many forms ranging from individual instruction to co-teaching and overseeing a classroom, all while serving students who may not be meeting traditional grade-level benchmarks.

“To evaluate a special education teacher fairly and accurately, CEC believes an evaluation must clearly identify a special education teacher’s role specific to individual students and set performance expectations based on the duties associated with those roles,” the group said.

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Comments (13 Responses)

  1. Vicki says:

    Shouldn’t special educators be judged on the the student meeting IEP goals and objectives? Performance standards are well laid out in a good IEP, as well as, rate of progress from one evaluation to the next. If schools would ensure that evaluaions take place every 3 years, the teachers would have a tool to gauge rate of progress. Unfortunately, school districts are oftentimes doing their own teachers a disservice by not wanting to complete evaluations if parents and advocates don’t push the issue. While it may save time and money, it doesn’t serve the students or teachers well in the long run.

  2. Susan says:

    I agree that the IEP goals and objectives should be the starting point for evaluating special education teachers.

    But the statement says, “. Furthermore, when measuring student growth, evaluations should not use a student’s progress on their goals, objectives, or benchmarks on the individualized education program (IEP) as a measure of a special education teacher’s contribution to student growth.”

    This position invalidates the IEP. In my experience, crafting the IEP is frequently just a bureaucratic exercise to put together a piece of paper that will not be looked at again until the next annual IEP meeting. If it was a real plan, based on careful assessment of the student’s needs, then it would have to be the starting point for teacher evaluation. If it’s no good for evaluation, maybe it’s not a very good IEP.

  3. Amit says:

    I stronglt believe that special ed teachers should be evaluated. I am the father of 12 year old with downs syndrome. Over the years, I have beewn through numerous IEP’s for my child. The focus is always on the child’s ability and never once have we looked at the quality of education imparted or the techniques adapted. If we are going to put the onus of learning and development on the child and give the educators a free pass, there is and never will be any accountability for performance. Oftern times the educators have and will continue to get away by pointing to the student deficits and having low expectations. If we do not change this now, we are doing a disservice to all our childeren

  4. Amit says:

    I strongly believe that special ed teachers should be evaluated. I am the father of 12 year old with downs syndrome. Over the years, I have beewn through numerous IEP’s for my child. The focus is always on the child’s ability and never once have we looked at the quality of education imparted or the techniques adapted. If we are going to put the onus of learning and development on the child and give the educators a free pass, there is and never will be any accountability for performance. Oftern times the educators have and will continue to get away by pointing to the student deficits and having low expectations. If we do not change this now, we are doing a disservice to all our childeren

  5. Lyelle Palmer, Ph.D. says:

    An IEP is not a plan–it is a PROGRAM constructed and monitored cooperatively by parents and teachers (and students) with the goal of satisfaction in curricula, instruction and demonstrable progress, adaptation, and whatever else is agreed upon. Weekly, if not daily, indicators of performance provide empirical evidence of the success of the PROGRAM. Progress provides the satisfaction and monitoring progress is mechanical and straightforward. The IEP must contain specific, explicit goals/objectives and the smaller sequential steps that lead to the attainments. Criterion-referenced rather than standardized measures are used, including those constructed by the teacher(s). When progress is made (or empirical trials such as RtI to compare and identify best practices for this student are conducted), the teacher is doing the job. Special education means individualized content, instruction techniques and progress.
    What works for this student is determined by trial and error (empirically). The variety of techniques used by the teacher increases the likelihood that the student will enjoy personal success. The teacher should have at least 3 different ways to teach any curricular objective so that pupil needs/characteristics are integrated into lesson instruction. Consistent record-keeping of responses, running record, error analysis, corrective reviews, etc is the most fine-grained evaluation tool. Standardized testing is intended for regular-education (group evaluation). The student in special education may or may not perform on the standardized test, and testing a pupil who reads at second-grade level using a 9th-grade test is waste of time and energy while enduring damaging emotional turmoil. We don’t need to rank teachers, but we can
    roughly determine location relative to career ladder categories: novice teacher with fewer instructional skills and content knowledge, experienced teacher with 3-9 years experience and several advanced training certificates/programs, and master teacher with 10+ years of experience with many advanced tools who can assist and train others. The evaluation must be limited and specific with areas of training and improvement identified by the teacher and supervisor together. The career is a personal journey and the supervisor is to assist the teacher in achieving professional goals that include success for each pupil as defined in the IEP. Keep it simple. Lyelle Palmer, Ph.D.

  6. George Buzzetti says:

    First of all these formats for teacher evaluation are totally without real value in assessment. Second, when it comes to special education teachers you have to throw out the book in many instances considering the problems next to regular students without problems which can be mental, physical or a combination of both. They are not also directing the conversation to the severity of the disability for that teacher. Third, what about the evaluation of the administrators. Does not the fish rot from the head? In Chicago the administrators are saying about their being evaluated that they need to be able to choose their teachers to be properly evaluated. Then I say that teachers should be able to choose their students for fairness. Now where does that leave us. Also, I say if you want to properly evaluate how good a teacher is we need to take the Beverly Hills teacher and put them in Compton and the Compton teacher in Beverly Hills and then see what happens. Might be real interesting and throw out their ideology into the trashcan. Special education is not like anything else. It has many complications and problems not seen in standard students education process. And yet they have no consideration for these complications and problems of many different kinds in the same classroom. The special education teacher has a much more difficult job than a normal classroom teacher and as such the evaluation must be different.

  7. Glen S says:

    It is always amazing that professional, public school educators seeks to be exempted from the criteria used to determine proficiency in other professionals. “Throw out the book,” “totally without real value in assessment” and other wording indicates an unwillingness to hold educators (aids, teachers, administrators, district officer personnel) accountable for systemic failures in pubic education.

    Parents are the the ones who hold the “property rights” to our public school systems. If a teacher is not following the PROGRAM, that teacher should be held immediately accountable. If has year of poor performance, the causes should be identified and corrected before the start of the following year.

    It is true that a first year teacher has fewer tools. They should be taught and expected to demonstrate those “tools” as soon as possible.

    It is true teaching is a career like no other. And exceptional education is an even more specialized field. For this reason they should be held to higher standards, not lower!

  8. KA101 says:

    Hi, Glen S.

    I’d agree that IEP performance is, in theory, a good starting point for special-ed evaluation; not all schools draft competent IEPs though. I’d suggest that educational progress be tracked as well (gain/loss relative to other students) so as to provide some way to control for schools lowballing the IEP.

    As for annual assessment tests–teaching to the test results in forgetting afterward, and focusing on test scores misses the point.

    (The best way to ensure your students get high scores on the test is to check & correct their answers once they’ve handed it in. Actually doing the test for them might work too but takes a lot of teacher time. Both of these approaches are so effective at increasing test scores that lesser minds consider them “cheating”. Run a search for “Cheating for ‘Superman'”, if you’d like a pretty decent article on the topic.)

  9. Glen S says:

    KA101,
    I’m not sure the point of your post. Whether a school is drafting valid IEP’s is not the point. But one I will address in a few moments. The report addresses exceptional children teacher’s desire to get out of state and national teacher expectations. These teachers apparently feel they should not be help to account by those who actually fund their salaries, taxpayers, and whose children they teach, parents.

    As I stated earlier, this represents just one more instance where professional, public educators are looking to escape accountable for poor job performance. Again, failure to meet the job expectations in any other profession is grounds for immediate dismissal.

    Now as to your point concerning IEP. As a legal professional, you should know as well as anyone that if an IEP doesn’t meet certain criteria; it can and should be invalidated. As one previous poster pointed out, the parents play an vital role in participating in and monitoring the effectiveness of any IEP or 504. As I have schooled you before, a goal of any advocacy should be to educate parents as to not just their “rights” but also their responsibilities in ensuring a successful program.

    I am the first to fault professional, public schools for their many failures. This article is not the first and unfortunately will not be the last. But IDEA is not intended to let parents “off the hook” for the education of their exceptional children. I know personally that raising a child with exceptional needs is difficult, but as a parent; I am my child’s best advocate. It is my goal to be at least as educated about the process of developing a program for my child.

  10. Lyelle Palmer, Ph.D. says:

    Please read the article carefully, since it references evaluation of special educators. All teachers must be evaluated, including special educators, but students with disabilities vary individually. Teachers in special education are specialists with advanced specialized training that often follows their college work. Remember, students in special education have handicaps that must be taken into account in terms of expectations, adaptations, and history of progress. Just as students in special education require an
    individualized assessment, the teachers also must be individually measured (or the standards/rubrics must be modified for appropriate use). Teachers want assessment as feedback that improves their performance. Nowhere will you find teachers who want to evade assessment.

  11. KA101 says:

    Seeing as I’ve given parent trainings on drafting good IEPs well before meeting you, I’d posit that schooling is something we’re talking about, not something that one of us does to the other. But I digress.

    Unfortunately, not every parent does a good job of IEP enforcement. Some honestly want to but can’t (work schedules and such), some have educational or language barriers of their own (I can help with the former, but the latter would need translation), and indeed there are some who just don’t care.

    I hold that none of those situations should make the school less accountable, which is why I suggested that evaluation methods should include safeguards against lowball IEPs, and offered the comparison to age/grade cohort as one possibility.

    Thanks for your time and consideration.

  12. Glen S says:

    Lyelle Palmer, Ph.D. Your argument is false. Teachers unions around the country fight tooth and nail to have all enforcements and accountability removed from teachers’ contracts. The end result is that poorly performing teachers are passed from one school to the next all the while students and parents are suffering under these poor teachers.

    KA101: Again, holding a school accountable for the failure of a parent is as illogical as giving a poor teacher a “pass.” As stated before, parents are the first line of defense for their children. If they don’t care, that is a matter for other agencies outside of education to deal with.

  13. Leslie Williams says:

    For this to be effective, the administrator NEEDS to have knowledge and understand what special education is and how unique it can be each day or each hour. (My last administrator did not understand this and evaluated me as any other teacher versus what I was doing with my students.) When will this new evaluation come into effect? And, who will be the evaluators for the speciale ducation teachers?

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