Learn Your Special Education Laws, Special Education Rights, and Share IEP Goal Ideas

Sep 02
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by Doug Goldberg

The Los Angeles Times recently published a database of over 6,000 Teachers who teach third through fifth grade in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).  The database scores teachers based on value added analysis (VAA).  The Times says that, “Value-added estimates the effectiveness of a teacher by looking at the test scores of his students. Each student's past test performance is used to project his performance in the future. The difference between the child's actual and projected results is the estimated "value" that the teacher added or subtracted during the year. The teacher's rating reflects his average results after teaching a statistically reliable number of students.” 

While I applaud the Times for spurring a discussion on the proper method of evaluating Teachers I don’t think VAA should be the only method.  Special Needs Children are notoriously poor test takers.  This is why the State of California has currently exempt children with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) from having to pass the California High School Exit Exam.  There are many excellent general education teachers that are given a higher percentage of children with IEPs because, 1) they are more capable of teaching them, 2) they have more structure in their classrooms, and 3) their personalities are more suited to dealing with children that need extra help and attention.  These teachers shouldn’t be penalized, they should be applauded, but the VAA system might stop some excellent teachers from wanting to teach special needs children. 

My son finished the third grade a couple of months ago and by all accounts it was his most successful academic year ever.   He has a learning disability and a year earlier, at the end of second grade, he could not understand anything he read.  He also could not process auditory instructions.  Over the last year with the help of his third grade general education teacher, his resource teacher at school, and an after school educational therapist he has made huge strides.  He was able to read and write two book reports on his own, when a year earlier he could not read two sentences and explain what he had read.  He also started getting good grades on the weekly reading comprehension tests.  He still struggled on the larger unit tests that were given every couple of months and on the State achievement test his English scores went down.  What we have found out about our son is he struggles in longer tests where many subjects are being covered at one time.  He has the knowledge to get the question correct but he just gets confused during long tests.  

Since his State Achievement Test scores were lower this would reflect negatively on his general education teacher’s VAA score.  First, this is completely wrong because she did an excellent job with him.  Secondly, he also had both a resource teacher and educational therapist helping him but that doesn’t get reflected anywhere in the VAA.  

The current system of evaluating teachers by just looking at seniority and tenure is definitely broken.  I don’t believe any teacher should have their job just because they have been teaching the longest.  The Times article has started a very valuable discussion on the best way to evaluate a Teacher and VAA should be one component.  Another component should be how effectively a Teacher helps special needs children reach their IEP goals.  Many of my son’s IEP goals were reached last year because of his Teacher and she should get credit for that.  This includes education goals and other goals such as social/emotional goals.  VAA can’t measure a child’s ability to make friends in school but, for a child on an IEP, this can be just as important as anything else they will learn.  

The United States government is currently debating the restructuring of the No Child Left Behind Act and one of the methods being debated for Teacher evaluations is the use of VAA.  What are other components you think should be included in a Teacher’s evaluation?  We want to hear from you, please provide your suggestions below.

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