It's been a while since my last column in Metro East, and during that time there has been an avalanche of education-reform initiatives and other issues that school districts across the state are working to address. |
I'd like to discuss a few of those mandates and their possible effect on our schools.
One law passed last year is referred to as the Performance Evaluation Reform Act. It has many components, including linking student performance to teachers' and administrators' evaluations, and restructuring the seniority system. Both are significant in terms of passage and implementation.
PERA is a response, in part, to the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top Program, a competitive grant program designed to encourage states to drastically change their education models. Many educational experts view Race to the Top as a future replacement for the current No Child Left Behind mandates.
A major requirement of PERA is for schools to link educators' evaluations with some measurement of student achievement, such as standardized test scores. For administrators, this change in the evaluation system will begin in the upcoming school year. For teachers, it will go into effect the 2015-16 school year.
Student achievement will represent 25 percent of an educator's evaluation, and likely increase over time.
There are many challenges to implementing PERA, including what measurement should be used to fairly and accurately gauge an educator's performance. The challenges are unique to each level of education. For example, what measurement should be used to evaluate an educator who teaches third grade versus a middle school special education teacher or a high school industrial arts teacher or a dean of students?
Currently, Illinois schools use a variety of student measurements, most notably the Illinois Standards Achievement Test at the primary and middle-school levels and the Prairie State Achievement Exam, which includes the ACT, at the high-school level.
Each has been in place for quite some time. However, these tests were not designed to link the performance of individual educators with student performance. Herein lies the challenge — finding a truly equitable measurement that measures true student growth and also teases out the influence of individual educators on that growth.
Directly linked to educator evaluation and student performance are impending changes in the seniority system for educators. Seniority mainly impacts educators when schools have to make financial cuts, in particular, eliminating positions because of lack of money.
Historically, education, like many industries, has operated under the premise that the least senior individual loses his or her job in a reduction-in-force situation. However, PERA aligns RIF to job performance. The better an educator's evaluation, the more protection he or she would have in a RIF situation. Conversely, someone with a lower evaluation would have less protection if a school district had to RIF employees.
PERA comes at a time when public schools, municipalities and social-service agencies are seeing drastic cuts in state funding. In Illinois, the primary state funding to schools comes in the form of General State Aid.
In the 2012-13 school year, the state pro-rated GSA payments. This means that all schools did not, and will never, receive their final payment of the year. For United Township, that's about $160,000.
Next year, the state will pro-rate the last two GSA payments, which likely means United Township will receive about $330,000 less than what it's owed by the state. This is in addition to state cuts in transportation funding.
With reduced funding and PERA legislation, Illinois school districts are presented with tremendous challenges. The stakes, as always, are high, and the ultimate task will be to help students perform to their highest potential.
Jay Morrow is superintendent of the United Township High School district.
East moline, IL Details
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