SPRINGFIELD — — Illinois' slow implementation of a teacher evaluation program aimed at grading teachers partly on whether their students' test scores are improving is creating problems for statewide school districts that for the first time will be using the groundbreaking reforms beyond Chicago.
Problems include the state's inability so far to obtain a waiver from some of the more punitive tenets of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, including requiring 100 percent of students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014. The 34 individual districts making evaluation changes this year also say they're not getting help in preparing to implement them.
"The state board has not given much guidance with incorporating the student growth," Tim Buss, superintendent of Wabash District 348 in downstate Mt. Carmel said, where his 1600-student district this fall will beginning tying student performance to evaluations for its 125 teachers.
"They talked about coming out with a template, we have yet to see that."
As districts change how they judge teachers, there is little state support available, Eastern Illinois University education chair Marleis Trover said, particularly for districts which don't have a large administrative staff or can't afford to hire outside help.
"The whole idea is a good idea," Trover said of the reforms. "But it's implementation."
Illinois' 2009 Performance Evaluation Reform Act requires districts to design and implement evaluation systems that assess teachers' and principals' professional skills. By 2016, 70 percent of a teacher's evaluation will be based on observations of classroom performance. The other 30 percent will be based on "student growth" — students' improvement on a combination of national, district or teacher-developed tests.
While all Illinois teachers must be rated using the same categories —excellent, proficient, needs improvement or unsatisfactory— districts will decide which assessments they'll use to gauge student growth. State law now requires performance, not seniority, to be prioritized in layoff decisions. High ratings are required for at least two consecutive years before tenure is granted.