Evaluating special education teachers: Implementing the IEP should be the standard
Standardized tests are an indelible part of the public conversation on how to improve our nation’s education system. Lawmakers of all stripes have either passed or proposed legislation tying everything from school funding to teacher retention to student performance on these tests.
The end result is myopia. High scores are the Holy Grail by which all other aspects of education are measured.
This would be fine if all students were alike. Special education teachers, advocates, lawyers and parents of children with special education needs have been screaming for years that they are not. Thanks to the efforts of all of these groups, substantial progress has been made in ensuring that each student is afforded an education that is appropriate to that student’s individual needs.
School officials, teachers and lawmakers now understand that it is improper to measure the success of a student with special needs by the same metric applied to mainstream students. That makes news like this very disappointing:
“…[I]n Illinois, Florida, New York and other states, education leaders and teachers unions are trying to create evaluations that take into account factors such as a student’s prior performance, socio-economic background and English language skills. Creating those measurements for general education teachers has proven challenging enough, but for special education teachers, it is even more trying, as officials try to find a way to evaluate growth that often can’t be measured on a test.”
“The great concern right now in many states is they’re using the same criteria for the general education teachers that they’re going to use for the special education teachers and there’s real resistance to that,” said George Giuliani, director of the special education program at Hofstra University’s Graduate School and executive director of the National Association of Special Education Teachers.
This needn’t be as difficult as the states are making it. Schools already evaluate special education students’ growth in ways that can’t be measured on tests. They do this in the form of the Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) that the law requires must be afforded to all students coded SPED.
The answer is simple. Use the metric that already exists. Measure the success of special education teachers in their progress in implementing students’ IEPs.
Abandoning a jury-rigged evaluation system based off new, potentially esoteric criteria and adopting a measurement system based on the IEP has an added benefit: it ties teacher success to student success. The new requirements would serve as a bolster to existing special education-related laws and regulations. The end result would be an increased likelihood of student success.
Sometimes something just makes sense. This is one of those times. As states address this issue, they should remember that the metric is already in place, and tie special education teacher evaluations to IEP implementation.
Bryan Utter is an associate attorney at HooverLaw.