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Utah teachers like accountability, worry about new evaluations

Published October 18, 2013 8:29 am

Educators at two-day convention give failing grade to state's first school grades system.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah teachers generally like the new accountability system facing them next year, but their recent brush with the state's first school grades makes some wary, educators at the Utah Education Association conference said.

Educators decried the legislatively mandated school grades system, which assigned a single letter grade to every public school last month, as too simplistic to show what's really happening in schools.

Some now have the same worry about the new teacher evaluations, which will eventually tie a teacher's pay to performance.

An estimated 3,000 to 5,000 teachers are expected at the two-day annual convention, which began Thursday at the South Towne Exposition Center in Sandy.

The accountability system, which also affects school administrators, was created by the 2012 Legislature after consultation with education groups. It's being piloted now in several districts and will be in place in all public schools for the 2014-15 school year.

The UEA got a $150,000 grant from the National Education Association to help train teachers to be better prepared for the evaluations, said Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, UEA president.

Anna Williams, an English as a Second Language teacher at Park City High School, said the new evaluations won't be able to capture the scope of a teacher's work, such as the hours spent with students before and after school.

Park City, she says, graduates 100 percent of its ESL students, but it requires "teaching the whole child."

"I don't think any place in that evaluation framework are we being evaluated for our ability to teach the whole child," she said. "Any time you tie compensation to test scores, you really sacrifice what should be at the center of our work, which is student achievement."

But Signe Balluff, a fourth-grade teacher at Orchard Elementary in North Salt Lake, said the new accountability system should increase conversations among teachers, administrators and parents, and she welcomes that.

Williams and Balluff were among seven experienced teachers on a Thursday panel at the UEA convention. They discussed everything from the new Common Core standards for what students should learn in each grade to attracting and retaining teachers to the universal need among teachers for more time for reflection and preparation.

kmoulton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @KristenMoulton