At the Nov. 19 District 65 School Board meeting, leaders of the District Educators Council (DEC, the teachers union) continued their opposition to a newly revised “Teacher Appraisal System” that substantially changes how teachers will be evaluated using student growth. More than 200 teachers appeared at the Nov. 6 School Board meeting to demonstrate their opposition to the appraisal system.

Jean Luft, president of DEC, and Paula Zelinski, vice-president of DEC, say the methodology used to measure student growth under the new system is unreliable, flawed and inequitable for a host of reasons. Ms. Luft said imposing the new system on teachers has dragged teacher morale to an all time low, and that the system makes it difficult for District 65 to recruit and retain excellent teachers. Ms. Luft asked that the revised evaluation system be put on hold and be treated “as a pilot or a shadow system” for one year.

Superintendent Hardy Murphy said there was no reason to delay implementing the appraisal system. He said it raises the bar by making teachers accountable for addressing the needs of all students across the achievement spectrum, and he defended the system, saying it had “enough fail-safes built into the system so that at the end of the year, when all is said and done, we can make sure no one is treated unfairly.”

Despite the disagreement, School Board president Katie Bailey said on Nov. 6 that the Board would not vote on the issue, saying it was a management decision.

Ms. Luft took issue with that position on Nov. 19. She said, “The teachers firmly believe that it is the right and the responsibility of the School Board to ensure the well being of the District and to review and oversee issues as critical as the teacher appraisal system. Our professional agreement contract is between the teachers and the School Board. The professional agreement has a lengthy section on teacher evaluation and appraisal. Even if the Board does delegate some authority to the administration, the Board is still the responsible party for the reasonable use of that delegated authority.”

She asked the Board to step in and defer the implementation of the new teacher appraisal system, “I once again ask you to use your authority to move the revised student growth component to a pilot or a shadow system and to accelerate the implementation of the PERA teacher appraisal system as outlined by Illinois state law.” (See sidebar on PERA).

Near the end of the Nov. 19 School Board meeting, Board member Richard Rykhus said, “I’d like to continue the discussion on the appraisal system and see if we could have an action item [a item that is voted on] on the agenda for the Board in that regard.”

Ms. Bailey said, “Last time, I said my belief in Board governance is that management sets the evaluation system and it’s very important we are aware of it, that we track it, that we express concerns, but you said, ‘action item.’”

“I did,” said Mr. Rykhus. “And part of the reason I did is the Illinois State Board of Education talks about that the Board of Education can ratify the final evaluation plan. It’s part of what they laid out with PERA, and so I think it’s within our authority to do so.”

Ms. Bailey agreed it was within the authority of the Board to do so, but said the issue in her mind was whether the Board should interfere with a management decision.

Board member Tracy Quattrocki said, “I think hearing teachers come to the lectern again and knowing that this has caused a lot of consternation in this community, I think we should as a Board affirm or say we want to slow it down, one way or the other. We have voted on the Inclusion project. We have voted on major projects and decisions in the District. Whatever way it goes, I think for the community, since there is a sense of indecision, that we should be strong and lead and say either yes or no to the community or the teachers.”

Kim Weaver said put it down for discussion.

Ms. Bailey said the Board would discuss whether to vote on the teacher evaluation system at its Dec. 3 meeting, and if the Board decided to vote, the vote would be taken on Dec. 19.

The Illinois Performance Evaluation Reform Act (PERA)

PERA requires each school district “”in good faith cooperation with its teachers,”” to “”incorporate the use of data and indicators on student growth as a significant factor in rating teaching performance.”” Under PERA, School District 65 must implement an evaluation plan that includes student growth by Sept. 1, 2016. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has adopted regulations that specify in broad terms the required components of an evaluation plan.

Under PERA, school districts must establish a joint committee comprised of an equal number of persons selected by the District and its teachers to work out an evaluation plan that incorporates student growth in accordance with ISBE’s regulations. If the joint committee does not agree on an evaluation plan within 180 days of the date it starts discussions on the plan under PERA, then the “”district shall implement the model evaluation plan”” that is established by ISBE. ISBE has not yet adopted a model teacher evaluation plan, but is working to do so.

Under an amendment to PERA that became effective last year, a school district and the executive bargaining representative of its teachers “”may jointly agree in writing to an earlier implementation date [than Sept. 1 2016], provided that such date must not be earlier than Sept. 1, 2013.

DEC has asked District 65 to implement PERA and adopt an evaluation plan that incorporates student growth on an expedited basis by Sept. 1, 2013. If District 65 and DEC agreed to implement PERA and did not agree on an evaluation plan within 180 days, then ISBE’s model teacher evaluation plan (yet to be adopted) would kick in by default.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...