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Trends in Teacher Evaluation: What Every Special Education Teacher Should Know

By Benedict, Amber E.; Thomas, Rachel A. et al. | Teaching Exceptional Children, May/June 2013 | Go to article overview

Trends in Teacher Evaluation: What Every Special Education Teacher Should Know


Benedict, Amber E., Thomas, Rachel A., Kimerling, Jenna, Leko, Christopher, Teaching Exceptional Children


Carol is a fifth-year special education teacher in an urban Florida school. For as long as she can remember, classroom observations and formal evaluations by her principal have been an accepted and anticipated measure of her effectiveness. Annually, Carol's principal would schedule an observation of her teaching and then evaluate the execution of her instruction, classroom management, and overall professionalism. Carol's principal would use a district-provided checklist to document these observations. After the observation, Carol would meet with her principal to discuss her instructional practices and overall performance as a special education teacher.

Last spring, however, Carol was shocked to learn about the proposed Florida Senate Bill 6 and the changes politicians proposed to measure the effectiveness of her teaching. It was frightening for her to learn that her pay scale, licensure, and even tenure could be determined by her students' performance on the state's standardized test. Although she deeply values the importance of student academic growth, Carol felt blindsided by this dramatic change to how her effectiveness as an instructor would be measured. She was even more alarmed when she learned that Florida was not the only state deliberating using student growth outcomes as an indicator to measure teacher performance.

This new knowledge left Carol with many questions: How could such dramatic changes to my evaluation as an educator be happening without my knowledge? If the method of teacher evaluation in my district changes, what should I know about the evaluation measure? Are there things that I can do differently to ensure that I am prepared for my evaluation?

It is important for special education teachers to be informed about the evaluation methods being used to assess teacher performance within their school district. Knowledge about teacher assessment measures will support special education teachers in preparing for and performing well on their formal evaluations. When special education teachers are aware of the evaluation expectations in their district, they can change their practices to ensure that their strengths and expertise are best showcased by the evaluation system being implemented by their school district.

Accountability Policy

Recent changes to teacher evaluation measurement reflect increased emphasis on individual accountability. In 2001 , the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was reauthorized as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB, 2006). The law was amended to increase the number of highly qualified teachers and principals and to hold schools and local education authorities accountable for improvements in student academic achievement (Borko, 2004). States must now assess students' learning to demonstrate that all students will make adequate yearly progress (AYP) and be 100% proficient in reading by the 2013-2014 academic year (NCLB, 2006). AYP is monitored through testing the performance of 12 possible subgroups of students (NCLB, 2006). As a result of AYP, many states developed statewide curricula and standardized assessments to monitor student progress towards schools' AYP status (Goertz & Duffy, 2003).

The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was first enacted 3 decades ago to help states and local school districts provide free and appropriate public education to students with disabilities. In 2004, IDEA was reauthorized to include provisions more closely aligned with NCLB (IDEA, 2006). States now had to create goals for the performance of students with disabilities that were consistent with the standards for all other children (IDEA § 300.1 [B]). In addition to setting higher expectations for students with disabilities, states were now required to include these students in state and district assessments when appropriate and their scores counted towards AYP (IDEA§ 300.157 [a] B). These changes to IDEA required teachers to more carefully select and monitor the use of accommodations provided to support standardized assessments success of students with disabilities.

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