Delaware’s Waiver Request on Educator Evaluation: We Must Fulfill our Commitments

July 8th, 2011

Category: News, Policy and Practice

In its winning Race to the Top application, Delaware promised to implement the state regulations it passed in 2009 changing the state’s teacher, administrator, and specialist evaluation system, known as DPAS II. The planned change would finally link the evaluation of our teachers, leaders, and paraprofessionals to student growth. All of Delaware’s stakeholders—districts, charters, teachers union, business community, and governor—signed off on the promise. Yet on June 30, when our state’s plan for the revised evaluation system was due to the U.S. Department of Education (USED), we didn’t deliver. Instead, on June 3, our state Department of Education submitted an amendment request for a one-year “interim plan” and an additional year before any consequences associated with performance are imposed.

Aside from the discussion on the waiver request itself, it’s important to remind ourselves why the change to DPAS II is so important in the first place. If we can agree that teachers and leaders are the biggest in-school drivers of performance, then perpetuating our current system makes no sense. Currently DPAS II identifies 98 percent of educators as “satisfactory” and supports all teachers equally, whether they are struggling, stellar, or some place in between.

So where do we go from here?  In large part, that’s now in the hands of the USED. Any outcome will leave its mark on Delaware’s RTTT efforts, as the evaluation system is a lynchpin of the state’s effort to reform its schools. If the waiver is granted, it holds the power to significantly delay the roll out of DPAS II, and that changes everything.

Why didn’t we meet the June 30 deadline? Lack of effort seems not to have been the problem—in fact, there was a massive effort to develop appropriate measures of student growth that involved 400 teachers in over 100 work groups. The primary hang-up appears to be that the state did not feel that it had sufficiently sound tools in place to do the work across all subject areas and grades by the deadline. Key questions, at this point, are how high should the bar be set on the scientific rigor of these measures and are we still truly committed to moving forward with our commitment?

If moving forward is a priority—and I think it is—practical compromises will need to be made as it seems unlikely that perfect measures for all subjects and for all grades will be ready any time soon. It’s important that we do this well, yet we must also push ourselves and keep our promises. We don’t have the luxury of time. Moreover, the process needs to include a broader set of voices, including more community and private sector leaders and national experts, as well as a clear and transparent timeline to ensure that the tough decisions are made in a timely manner and based on the best thinking available.

The implications for Delaware and the country are significant, but our objectives are simple: to implement the commitments that we have collectively pledged for the benefit of Delaware’s children, and to provide leadership to other states who are looking to us. They’re not waiting, so neither can we.




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Author:
Paul Herdman

pherdman@rodelde.org

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