Kane County Chronicle | School districts facing rules regarding principal, teacher evaluations

Rae Ann McNeilly, Executive Director of Taxpayers United for America, provided commentary on teacher evaluations and academic performance for the Kane County Chronicle.

kanechronicleIn receiving a three-year contract to head Batavia School District 101, new Batavia School Superintendent Lisa Hichens’ contract is linked to student performance and academic performance within the district.

In receiving a three-year contract to head Batavia School District 101, new Batavia School Superintendent Lisa Hichens’ contract is linked to student performance and academic performance within the district.

Illinois School Code requires that multiyear administrator contracts be linked to student performance and academic performance within a district. Hichens took over as superintendent in July after the retirement of former school superintendent Jack Barshinger.

Hichens said she believes the law “in general is a good idea.”

“But we have to be careful on placing too much emphasis on test scores,” she said. “We have to make sure the information is used for the good of students.”

Batavia Education Association President Tony Malay agreed.

“Our belief is that students are more than a test score,” Malay said. “Test scores don’t accurately reflect what they are learning. We don’t create thinkers, we create test takers.”

School districts soon will have to deal with more rules in regard to student performance.

In 2010, Gov. Pat Quinn signed the Performance Evaluation Reform Act, which requires all schools in Illinois to change how teachers’ and principals’ performance is measured.

Districts already are dealing with one part of the law. Starting in September 2012, all principals had to be evaluated every year by trained and pre-qualified evaluators. And starting Sept. 1, 2016, all Illinois school districts – including those in Kane County – must begin using new teacher evaluation systems that incorporate student growth measures.

“It’s just another tool for helping schools improve,” Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Mary Fergus said. “For too long, we’ve seen teachers rated as exemplary without any constructive feedback. Teachers, like any other professional, need a holistic evaluation and support that will guide them toward improvement.”

The act was written with teachers, administrators, union representatives and other people at the table, Fergus said.

But Rae Ann McNeilly, executive director of the Chicago-based Taxpayers United of America and a North Aurora resident, had some concerns about PERA.

“It sounds like it is good,” McNeilly said. “What wouldn’t be good about a pay-for-performance environment? But the problem is that the unions are involved in selecting or establishing the criteria that is used in the performance evaluation.”

Under the law, district administrators must work with teachers’ union representatives to develop evaluation systems that incorporates student growth. McNeilly said that creates a conflict of interest.

“That’s just not the role of the union,” McNeilly said. “The union has no interest in the students or student outcomes. Their sole interest lies in helping teachers keep their jobs, whether they deserve to or not and helping them get high pay, so that they can then get high pensions. The unions have a vested interest in pulling in more money for these performance evaluations.”

Malay disagreed.

“We do have an interest in our profession in maintaining high standards, just like doctors and lawyers and accountants,” Malay said. “Who better to evaluate teachers than the educational professionals we are? Tell me people that would be more qualified than the people who work with children on a daily basis.”

McNeilly also was upset that performance evaluations of teachers, principals and superintendents are exempt from Freedom of Information requests.

“You have a right to know if your child’s teacher or principal have poor performance evaluations,” McNeilly said. “That’s all part of the picture.”

St. Charles School Superintendent Donald Schlomann said he is concerned that PERA is taking away local control.

“PERA was really negotiated at the state level, not at the local level,” Schlomann said. “It feels a great deal that you are starting to lose local control. Everybody has got to be the same. Whether you are teaching in an inner-city school in Chicago or if you are teaching in St. Charles, you’ve got the same expectations and same goals that you’ve got to meet.”

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