State Education Superintendent John White told about 45 teachers Tuesday he plans to ease teacher evaluation and school evaluation consequences for this year, saying the tension and stress of implementing a revolution in math and English pedagogy are just too high reports the Times Picayune/NOLA.com.
While he supports evaluating teachers, "I do feel like we need to take some of the air out of the room," White said at John Q. Adams Junior High in Metairie, part of a tour of Orleans and Jefferson schools on Tuesday. "Let's give our teachers more room to do this work for the first time."
He has already pledged to limit any decrease in school letter grades.
That would be welcome news to Marian Althage, a master teacher at Myrtle C. Thibodeaux Elementary in Westwego, who said even her strong teachers are stressed this year. "The pressure doesn't go away," she said.
Teachers are working overtime to change their strategies and curricula to meet the demands of Common Core, new academic standards that dictate what students should be able to do in math and English at the end of every grade. Nearly every state has adopted the standards, and Louisiana students will start being tested on them this December -- even though teachers don't entirely know yet what the tests will look like. And about 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation depends on how their students score.
Louisiana has opted to have school districts create their own curricula, saying educators know best what their students need. Tuesday's attendees were part of the state's teacher-leader corps that trains educators to help their colleagues implement the new Common Core.
But in conversation with those teachers, White delved into the complexity and contradictions of that mindset. He pulled up the band director's chair -- joking "anyone want to throw any tomatoes?" -- and asked to hear what wasn't working.
"I think we should view this as a once-in-a-generation shift," he said.
The conversation was unusually low-key and nonpolitical given the firestorms of controversy Common Core has sparked in recent months.
Indeed, attendees said they have started to see that controversy in their own classrooms, especially when first-quarter grades came out -- and, as parents have protested statewide, some obedient A students of the past saw their grades drop.
They agreed schools have to teach parents why Common Core was valuable.
Stephanie Durantz, a teacher-leader at Chateau Estates Elementary in Kenner, said she'd had luck with creating materials that explained Common Core vocabulary to parents.
Karen Favorite, the academic dean at Live Oak Elementary in Livingston Parish, said she had the same experience. Parents need to know teachers now talk about "a 'telling' sentence, not a 'declarative' sentence," she said. "It makes a difference if they're aware of that vocabulary ... we're not leaving them out there. They're a vital part of the family that's educating the child."
They also discussed the question of finding materials given the state's resistance to dictating curriculum -- a decision reinforced last week when the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, responding to political pressure, voted to officially leave decisions about reading material and course materials in local school districts' hands.
Companies -- legitimate and not -- are coming out of the woodwork trying to capitalize on the nationwide need for Common Core textbooks. "We need teachers empowered" to decide what they teach, White said, but "you need to not be sifting through reams and reams of online materials claiming to be Common Core-aligned. What would be helpful?"
Erica Rosher, a teacher-leader at Bonnabel High School in Kenner, said the need is especially acute for math teachers. "'Walden' hasn't changed," she said, but creating new math problems is "kind of hard for a teacher to do alone at home on a Sunday."
White praised the Jefferson attendees for their commitment to change, saying, "You really are revolutionizing this district."
He plans to bring recommendations about student promotion, teacher evaluation and school letter grades to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in December. In addition, the board directed the Education Department last week to devise a plan for further evaluating the metrics that go into teacher evaluations. Members of the board toured St. Tammany schools Tuesday.