State education reform delayed

At a Tuesday press conference, Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, called for the resignation of the state’s Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor ’93 LAW ’98.

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, McKinney said that Pryor has failed in his chief assignment to implement Gov. Dannel Malloy’s education reform initiatives, including the Common Core curriculum and teacher evaluations. McKinney, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, said the state Department of Education has not been listening to the input of teachers, administrators and parents

“By choosing to implement these new programs with limited input from teachers and on an overly ambitious schedule, both the governor and the commissioner have lost the confidence of parents and educators across our state,” McKinney said. “The rollout has been met with confusion and frustration by teachers, administrators and parents.”

In response, Malloy’s office said McKinney made the statement only to get attention.

“Time and again, Senator McKinney has proven that there is literally nothing he won’t say if he thinks it will bring him press attention,” said Mark Ojakian, Malloy’s Chief of Staff.

McKinney’s statement comes one week after Malloy called for a slowdown on his education reform initiatives. Superintendent of New Haven Public Schools Garth Harries ’95 said these changes would not affect New Haven public schools because the city implemented its own teacher evaluation system in 2009. He added that the city received a waiver from the state in the fall of 2013, allowing public schools to continue their own teacher evaluation system separate from the state.

Concern from teachers prompted Malloy to delay the new education measures. Over the past several weeks, Connecticut educators have expressed frustration about how the teacher evaluations are being implemented. The largest teachers’ union in the state — the Connecticut Education Association — held a regional meeting on Jan. 27, and hundreds of teachers and administrators attended to tell lawmakers that the teacher evaluations were putting too much pressure on them.

In response, Malloy sent a letter to the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) calling for a delay in the implementation of a key component of the evaluation system — linking students’ standardized test scores with teacher evaluations. He also suggested school districts should have more flexibility in how they implement the teacher evaluations.

“Too much change all at once impedes teachers’ ability to be effective in their classrooms. Teachers and administrators understandably are feeling burdened, and together we must take action to relieve this pressure,” Malloy wrote in his letter to PEAC.

The council convened last Wednesday and voted to reduce and postpone some of the requirements of the education overhaul. It decided to postpone until the 2015-2016 school year the requirement that students’ scores on the new Smarter Balanced standardized test factor into teacher evaluations. This test aligns with the Common Core State Standards Connecticut voluntarily adopted in 2010.

The council also decided that teachers only need to set one goal for tracking their performance and that districts can reduce the number of mandatory teacher observations. Under the original legislation, teachers would be required to have at least one in-class observation each school year, but the council decided teachers with positive reviews must only be observed once every three years. The council is also giving local school boards until March 30 to submit new evaluation standards to the state.

Education experts have responded positively to Malloy’s call to separate the rollout of Common Core and the teacher evaluation system.

Jennifer Alexander, executive officer of the education advocacy group ConnCAN, said that while coupling standardized test scores with teacher evaluations is important, Malloy’s move to delay the reform would benefit teachers who must adapt to a new curriculum and a new evaluation system.

“I think giving folks more time to adjust is fair,” Alexander said. “But we have to make sure that student achievement is a factor in teacher evaluations.”

Malloy’s 2012 education bill also included increased funding for charter schools and a Commissioners Network to turn around chronically underperforming schools.

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