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.

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“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.