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BESE Report: January 2013

BESE adopts changes to Bulletin 741, with minor modifications

Perhaps influenced by thousands of e-mails, telephone calls and personal contacts, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education made some modest adjustments to proposed rule changes affecting Bulletin 741, the School Administrators’ Handbook.

The board considered numerous, far-reaching changes to the rules, including the elimination of requirements for school counselors and librarians.

After hearing from the public, the board made some superficial changes to their proposed changes.

The board left intact the ratio required for school counselors, but stipulated that “alternative methods” could be used to meet the mandate.

Similarly, the board decided to allow schools to use alternative ways to meet the mandated ratios for school librarians.

While Superintendent of Education John White argued that the changes allow schools more “flexibility” in staffing, the LFT maintains that the change justifies the state’s ongoing campaign to reduce funding for public education.

The services provided by certified counselors and librarians cannot be replicated “on the cheap” by relying on volunteers, community service groups or private providers, Federation Legislative Director Mary-Patricia Wray said.

School counselors are the lead agents in the administration of standardized tests and maintenance of vital records associated with school improvement efforts. That is in addition to their traditional roles in identifying problems, assisting with college and career goals, and overseeing 504 accountability accommodations.

In the same vein, librarians have become more important as the role of libraries has evolved in schools. Librarians are more important than ever because they oversee the school’s technology and technology instruction, as well as maintain the school’s technology equipment. They are also responsible for instituting technological innovations and instructing teachers in their use.

The board approved a change the way physical education credits are earned, saying that alternative methods will be allowed and  that the Department of Education “may” request information from schools demonstrating that standards are being met.

Students will be able to earn Carnegie credits alternatively through accredited tests. Information about just what this change means was vague. The Federation believes this represents a decreased rigor in coursework that could easily be abused.

BESE slams door on challenges to evaluations

BESE kept the door closed on ways for teachers to challenge evaluations that they believe were unfairly determined.

A proposal by member Carolyn Hill would have invalidated evaluations for teachers on maternity or military leave for a total of 40 days in an academic year. Rules in place invalidate evaluations for any teachers with 60 or more days of excused absences.

Hill’s plan would also have allowed teachers to petition their superintendent to invalidate their evaluations if justified by any extenuating circumstances. The teacher could appeal the superintendent’s decision to BESE if necessary.

BESE opted instead for a proposal from the Department of Education that allows district superintendents to request the state superintendent to invalidate student achievement data from the value added assessment model.

The department’s plan awkwardly cobbled on a section aimed at appeasing teachers of high-performing students who earn low value added scores.

In those cases, “If a majority of a teacher’s students score at the highest levels on state tests, but the teacher’s value-added results fall into the ineffective category, the teacher’s principal or supervisor shall have discretion, for that school year, to determine the teacher’s a student growth rating based on the evidence available from student learning targets.”

Evaluation changes like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic

Despite efforts to pitch the state evaluation plan as a tool to help teachers, not a punishment, the program remains broken and must be fixed by the legislature, LFT President Steve Monaghan told BESE members.

The changes to the state’s compass system of evaluating teachers do not go far enough to protect teacher rights or to guarantee that evaluations are an accurate measure of teacher performance, Monaghan said.

Changes will provide instructional videos demonstrating education techniques aligned with the evaluation system, give teachers access to student data at the start of the school year, and allow principals to provide some teachers with more detailed rationale for their evaluations.

In addition, the new plan removes most of the distinction among teachers in the mid-level range and expands the “highly effective” range from the 90th percentile to the 80th percentile.

LFT President Steve Monaghan said the changes are more cosmetic than substantial. "This is a severely broken system," he said, adding that teachers neither trust nor respect the state’s evaluation system.

Roemer is new BESE president

Board members witnessed the inauguration of District 6 member Chas Roemer to serve as board president for the coming year. Jim Garvey, who represents Distict 1, was installed as vice president, and District 7 member Holly Boffy took the oath of office as secretary-treasurer. Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne administered the oath to all three.

BESE evaluates John White

State Superintendent of Education John White received the second-highest rating possible when he was evaluated by the 11 members of BESE.

White was rated as effective/proficient by the board, on a four-level scale ranging from ineffective to highly effective.

Board members suggested that White needs improvement in his relations with organizations representing teachers and school employees.

White is paid $275,000 per year. His evaluation would have made him eligible for a $16,500 pay raise, but under pressure from the legislature, White agreed to not take the increase unless rank-and-file state employees also got raises.