by Christine Stuart

Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said his decision to give school districts the option to delay using a new teacher evaluation method with a new set of standards is a response to the complaints he’s been hearing from educators.

The governor, who has not said whether he is running for re-election, said it’s an issue he’s been working on for the past seven months.

“With respect to the politics of it, I’m really concerned that our teachers have the tools that they need to be successful in the classroom and folks are appropriately trained with respect to the Common Core,” Malloy told reporters Wednesday. “Is it political to hear people? You might categorize it as that. But the reality is that’s the appropriate way to handle these things.”

Under the new evaluation system student performance counts as 45 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, and while not all student performance hinges on standardized test scores, “we began to hear complaints that some people were being overwhelmed by the combination of Common Core and new teacher evaluation system,” Malloy said. 

Late Tuesday evening, Malloy and legislative leaders sent a letter to the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council, which includes members of the state’s two teacher unions, and asked them to delay coupling the new evaluation system and the Common Core.

By Wednesday morning the group had agreed to ask the federal government to modify its waiver and delay applying the new teacher evaluations and observations to a new standardized test for the Common Core Standards. About 70 percent of the state’s school districts have transitioned to the Common Core’s Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests.

Before Malloy arrived at the meeting Wednesday, the group also outlined options for districts to give them more flexibility to decide which components of the new evaluation system should be used.

The decision does not eliminate the use of evaluations, but it allows for a teacher to choose one goal or objective instead of four and it gives them the option of choosing various indicators for what they count toward student performance in those evaluations. School districts are being asked to submit their revised evaluation plans to the Education Department no later than March 30, 2014.

In addition, Malloy said he would sign an executive order creating a subcommittee of classroom teachers to make recommendations on how best to move forward with the new system. Their recommendations won’t be made until Jan. 1, 2015.

“We’re trying to make it right. We’re trying to create an education system that works,” House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, who signed onto Malloy’s letter to the group, said.

Asked if it was a political calculation going into a statewide election year where Sharkey and a majority of state lawmakers are up for re-election, he said, “this isn’t political. This is the future of our state.”

He said the changes are in response to what they’re hearing from hundreds of teachers and parents.

The Connecticut Education Association has been holding regional education forums around the state and hundreds of educators are turning out, according to the group’s president.

CEA President Sheila Cohen said significant problems emerged this past school year because of the conformity and compliance that characterized the new teacher evaluation system. She said those issues included an over-reliance on testing, the number of required formal observations, development of Student Learning Objectives, and onerous data collection — all of which negatively impacted students.

“In listening to what our teachers are saying. There’s a lot of frustration not only on their own behalf, but on behalf of the children that they teach,” Cohen said.

Cohen declined to say whether she thought the decision was political.

House Republicans, who held a press conference Wednesday afternoon, said the decision Malloy and the council made was not political and was the right decision.

“This isn’t about an election year because that’s every other year for us,” Rep. Tim Ackert, R-Coventry, said. “This is really about doing our jobs as representatives. Listening to the concerns and then saying, ‘Hey, where are the problems at’.”

He said some schools have already transitioned to the Common Core and are happy with where they are, but there are others that have expressed concerns.

“The Common Core philosophy in and of itself is not one which we disagree with in terms of their being some uniformity,” Cohen said. “But the way it’s being implemented and the way in which it was developed is one that we’re absolutely not sure of yet. For instance, we don’t know for a fact that all the guidelines are developmentally appropriate.”

The Common Core was adopted by the state Education Board in 2010, but there was never a vote of the legislature. The new teacher evaluation system was adopted by lawmakers in 2012 with bipartisan support.

Republican lawmakers called for public hearings on the Common Core to “let people know what’s going on with the standards in Connecticut and how is the appropriate way to roll this out.”

Ackert said he supports what Malloy and the council did Wednesday.

Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, who is running for governor, didn’t comment on whether the decision was politically motivated, but warned Malloy should have listened to teachers from the start.

“Many of the teachers I met with on Monday still feel personally insulted by the sharp criticisms Governor Malloy levied against their profession in his haste to force his reform plan upon them,” McKinney said. “Teachers knew he was moving too fast then, and this school year has proven that out. The teachers I talk to want what’s best for their students.”

While politicians were patting themselves on the back for listening to their constituents, two education groups warned delay of Common Core standards would put Connecticut students further behind their peers.

“Although we are always supportive of public discourse, we will oppose any delay in implementation of the Common Core State Standards,” Jeffrey Villar, executive director of the Connecticut Council on Education Reform, said. “It’s important for us to have an open dialogue about the challenges and successes with implementation. This will enable us to learn from each other about how we can make these reforms truly transformative and effective.”

Jennifer Alexander, CEO of Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, whose group fought hard to implement a teacher evaluation system agreed with Villar.

“Educators all across our state are working hard to make the Common Core State Standards come alive in their classrooms, and kids are benefiting from these changes,” Alexander said. “But the fact remains that kids in Connecticut are falling behind students in other states and countries. That’s why we cannot back away from moving forward with the Common Core standards.”


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