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NEA Says Testing May Play Role in Teacher Evaluations

Teachers union agrees that testing can play a role in teacher evaluations.

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The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest teachers union, made a key change to its stance regarding teacher evaluations Monday.

In the past, the union strongly rejected including student assessment results as any part of teacher evaluations. With more districts incorporating state and national test results into teacher evaluations, the union voted at its national conference in Chicago to change its policy. The 3.2 million-member organization, which represents many public school teachers and support staff, agreed that evidence of student learning should be considered in teacher evaluations.

[Learn about U.S. News's upcoming ranking of teacher preparation programs.]

Many states are already including student test results in teacher evaluations and merit pay laws, but the new NEA policy stopped short of endorsing the use of existing examinations to measure teacher effectiveness.

[Read about the NEA's move to preliminarily endorse President Obama.]

NEA's new policy says only tests that are "developmentally appropriate, scientifically valid, and reliable for the purpose of measuring both student learning and a teacher's performance" should be used. However, many experts believe that there are no current tests that meet those qualifications.

For instance, Segun Eubanks, director of teacher quality at NEA, told The New York Times that there are "no tests ready" that meet the union's standards. And Grover Whitehurst, director of the Brookings Institution's Brown Center on Education Policy, said current evaluation systems are "seriously flawed."

[Read an expert's take on teacher evaluation systems.]

Student progress is generally referred to as "value added," but Whitehurst says current tests don't do a good job of measuring it and districts aren't sure how much weight to give value added on teacher evaluations. Many states base about half of a teacher's evaluation on value added, while the remaining portion is determined by in-class observations. "We don't know enough yet about the best way to deal with value added," he says. "Fifty percent of teacher evaluation is a number people are plucking out of midair."

The NEA policy says teachers are "accountable for high quality instruction that advances student learning," but in order to judge the quality of that instruction, districts need "high quality teacher accountability systems" that are developed with teacher input and collective bargaining.

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