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Fairbanks union, district react to teacher evaluation plan

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Posted: Monday, December 10, 2012 11:54 pm

FAIRBANKS — A move to factor student test scores into future teacher evaluations is getting a failing grade from the head of the Fairbanks teachers’ union.

Fairbanks Education Association President Tammy Smith said she’s concerned that a deeper reliance on test scores — a trend that began with the federal No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 — is harming schools’ ability to provide a well-rounded education. Instead, she said, more incentives are emerging to simply teach students to pass standardized tests.

“The creative side of teaching, the creative side of students was already narrowed,” she said. “This is going to narrow it even more.”

The Alaska State Board of Education approved a change last Friday, made at the suggestion of Gov. Sean Parnell, that will gradually phase in a greater emphasis on student scores. Starting in 2015, 20 percent of a teacher’s assessment will be based on student performance, using data that includes at least one standardized test. By 2018, half of a teacher’s evaluation will use those criteria.

Some details of the new system will be sorted out at the local level. Fairbanks North Star Borough School District Superintendent Pete Lewis said a group of teachers, administrators and office staff will work together to fashion those elements in the months ahead.

Lewis said the next year will be spent getting “the scaffolding of a structure in place” before presenting a plan to the school board for consideration.

The new regulation requires that plans be in place by July 2015.

Lewis said there are still many questions that need to be answered. He said it’s still unclear how the testing process will work and whether it will incorporate subjects such as social studies, science, art and music.

“There’s some local leeway in terms of implementation, but there’s still so much we don’t know,” he said.

Geraldine Benshoof of North Pole, the only Interior resident on the seven-member state school board, couldn’t be reached to comment on the new statute on Monday.

Smith said she has numerous concerns about the plan, including the funding and time that will be required of administrators to implement it. She also said a system that links teacher evaluations to test scores puts too much pressure on students.

While teacher accountability is important, linking it too closely to student performance is an overly simplistic approach, she said.

“This is a very, very complicated issue,” Smith said. “This is not the way to deal with it.”

Lewis said the district is committed to developing a plan that’s fair to teachers and administrators while working to boost student achievement. He said it’s a process that won’t be rushed.

“There’s a big change here,” Lewis said. “We need to make sure we have a solid system.”

Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518.

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