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Jobs and schools promise to be top issues in next year’s city elections. The mayor’s education agenda faces its toughest test in the African-American communities that gave him strong support in 2011.

Advocate: New teacher evaluation overlooks special ed students

As state officials prepare to roll out a new teacher evaluation that is partially tied to student test scores, a leading advocate wants them to “think long and hard” to avoid adopting a process that inadvertently harms special education students.

Access Living’s Rod Estvan cautions that one of two scenarios could emerge if officials rush too quickly with the new evaluations: The test scores of special education students could be discounted, which would be bad news because teachers would not be held responsible for teaching them. Or, the test scores could be factored into the equation just like the scores of students who are in regular education—another bad deal, since it could lead to teachers maneuvering to keep test scores up by keeping special education students out of their classes.

 “This is a huge, complex issue and we don’t know what to do with it,” Estvan says.

Among the recommendations, outlined by Access Living’s Rod Estvan in a paper released Wednesday, are:

  • A revised time frame for implementing the new evaluation as it pertains to special education students, to give educators more time to consider the implications.
  • A framework for principal observation that is unique to special education students.
  • Allowing school districts to let students’ achievement growth be hashed out in meeting where Individualized Education Plans are developed, so that teachers and parents could look at a student’s educational history and decide what is realistic and acceptable.  

Under the state’s new teacher evaluation law, called the Performance Evaluation Reform Act, part of a teacher’s evaluation must be tied to test score growth. Evaluations will also be partially tied to principal observation.

Race To The Top pressure

When PERA was passed in January of 2010, Estvan says he didn’t fully digest the implications for special education students. With pressure to make sure that Illinois was positioned to win a federal Race to the Top grant, lawmakers, advocates and unions quickly agreed on the bill, since one criteria for the competitive grants was a plan to link teacher evaluations to student test scores.  

Though Illinois didn’t win a Race To The Top grant, the law still applies. CPS, where about 12 percent of students are in special education, must implement the new evaluations in 300 schools by the 2012 school year and the other half by 2013. Most of the rest of the state has until 2016.

On Friday, the Illinois Performance Advisory Council will approve draft recommendations to be passed on to the Illinois State Board of Education. Council member Larry Stanton says that, except at a high level, the recommendations do not address the issue of how special education students should be approached.

The PEAC recommendations leave those questions to yet-to-be-formed joint committees.

“It is going to require some special thinking,” says Stanton, former executive director of the Consortium for Educational Change, an advocacy organization affiliated with the Illinois Education Association.

But Stanton says the recommendations do allow school districts some flexibility. For example, one of three types of tests to be used measures growth unique to a class curriculum and is to be determined by the teacher and administrator.

Estvan says he is concerned that the timeline doesn’t leave much chance for CPS and other districts to fully consider how subgroups, such as special education and bilingual students, should be incorporated into the teacher evaluation system. At least initially, CPS will use an already-developed ISAT-based value-added formula.  But at the same time, it is in the midst of preparing to give a new test based on the Common Core Standards, which are seen to be more rigorous than state standards.

It is expected that CPS will initially see a drop in test scores when the new Common Core test comes online. The situation could be even worse for special education students, who are already far below students in regular education on the ISAT and the Prairie State.

Still, Estvan says it is imperative that teachers be expected to push special education students to achieve. He notes that under the current system, an increasing number of special education students are given an alternative, easier assessment that’s supposed to be reserved for students with the most severe disabilities.

Jennifer Ridder, a DePaul master’s student who helped research the Access Living paper, says she was surprised to find how little research has been done on special education students and teacher evaluations based on student test score growth.

“Given the push to value-added, school districts are quickly leaping into it without taking time to look and see where they might land,” she said.

However, Ridder found two examples that the state of Illinois and CPS might look at. In Ohio, a value-added model makes a prediction of how each student should progress, looking at a variety of measures such as a student’s historical academic and test performance record. Also, in Washoe County, Nevada, school district officials have developed a specific principal evaluation framework for special education teachers.   


Danny V wrote 3 years 12 weeks ago

New Teacher Eval

A fine story of the type we now expect from Sarah Karp, but let me make a correction and a point.

First, Chicago must have the new system ready to go in 300 (not 200) schools by next school year--with the rest coming online the following year. I really don't see why they would do it piece-meal, however, and wouldn't be surprised if all schools are put under the new system beginning next year.

Further, PEAC may develop rules for the rest of the state as far as having multiple measures of student growth, but the PERA 2010 has a loophole for Chicago: they may use a state assessment as the SOLE measure of student growth.

Phil wrote 3 years 12 weeks ago

Value Added Measures are unreliable they have a 35% error rate.

Value-Added In Teacher Evaluations: Built To Fail

VAM has error rates of between 20% and 35% due to random variables in the typical sample sizes that would be used in most school.

VAM is not reliable or valid for measuring teacher performance, even on the narrow measure of standardized tests, not to mention all the other ways that teachers impact students' lives. Add in all the variables associated with the wide range of issues that affect special education student test scores and error rates skyrocket.

Are will going to push teachers to focus even more on test scores rather than really teaching?

skarp wrote 3 years 12 weeks ago

Thanks Danny...

You are right that 300 CPS schools must come online by 2012. Thanks for the heads up. Also, tomorrow (if they give me the document) I will be writing about the draft recommendations of the PERA council and, before then, need to familiarize myself with how or whether the recommendations apply to CPS of not. After the CTU hearing, I will be on it.

Anonymous wrote 3 years 12 weeks ago


I would like to know what the heck happened during sb7 that alllowed chicago to be singled out? it just doesnt seem fair? how does a school district that receives more federal money and state money ( i assume) get to call more shots about outside money than other districts. this same bullying that made cps wanna increase our school day now must have occcured during the sb7 negotiations??? isnt this momentum to get that law changed to put ALL school districts on the same page literally (without a 500k plus clause?)

Danny V wrote 3 years 12 weeks ago

Coercion...and collaboration

The Performance Evaluation Reform Act of 2010--the subject of this article--was passed in January 2010. Senate Bill 7 was passed more than a year later (in May 2011). There are many statutes in the School Code that treat Chicago separately from the rest of the state. I, too, find this more than just a bit distressing.

Marilyn Stewart was President of the Chicago Teachers Union and Secretary-Treasurer of the Illinois Federation of Teachers when PERA was passed.

Karen Lewis was President of the Chicago Teachers Union and Executive Vice-President of the Illinois Federation of Teachers when SB 7 was passed. According to everyone associated with the crafting of the legislation, Lewis fully supported SB 7--including the Chicago-only provision for a 75% strike authorization vote by the membership.

Anonymous wrote 3 years 12 weeks ago


is there anything that can be done to change this?

AQ wrote 3 years 11 weeks ago


Vote against all incumbents. Until then tell them why you will be voting against them in the next election. Politicians believe teachers are easy targets -- they're not assertive, being mostly women, and a loyal Democratic voting bloc.

Anonymous wrote 3 years 11 weeks ago

special consideration for educating

This response that is growing noticeable followers encompasses institutions and administrator deriving strategy to refine standards' needs with an ensuing qualitative teaching or quest for quality. This response while being the centerpeice of an educational reform propelled by administrators in Chicago for thr schools has the singular features of an administrator's tools "amorphous" or, exemplifying modest diagnostic significance for the sake of evincing long range characteristics to a hastily generated strategy. It is therefore implied that the solutions were indeed propelling the adminstrators to edict this reform.

While this analysis seems apparent, a concensus cannot be emblazoned, and other educational environment elements are highly eminent and dismal with the somber accompaniment of inadequacies; anticipating educators may be privatedly and individually assertive, assessing this injection to codify a more qualitative program, an infusion of professionalism in this quest for "solution makers." Enjoining that the additional hours should enable the apprehenion of "individually constructed solution sets," which removes the blemish of inadequacies, a true appeasement of the educational profession.

Leaning away from the budget deficits confusion, the seeminingly disdain for political calm, the strategy is also touted as an unilateral response to a social and community crisis. And, the admonitions of its timeliness and historicity is insurmountable.

Anonymous wrote 3 years 11 weeks ago

The foregoing makes no sense

The foregoing comment is just a string of big words, big phrases, and unrelated buzzwords. If you want to make a point, make it in plain English.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 47 weeks ago


I'm confused. Where is the uproar over the accompanying essential dismanteling of the concepts of "Seniority" and "Tenure"??

Anonymous wrote 2 years 47 weeks ago

Is that not the way?

Special Education in the state of Education is rarely considered meaningfully or carefully, But, educators who devote their talents to educating students with special needs know that there is a significant challenge that they must shoulder and that is becoming competently trained and prepared to present their material diversifiedly and creatively,

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