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Massachusetts Drops Teacher Licensing Proposal

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Massachusetts education officials have dropped a proposal to include classroom performance evaluations as a criteria for renewing the licenses for teachers, administrators and other educators. The move came just days after newly released data gave most educators in the state high marks.

   The proposal to use the annual evaluations as part of the licensing process, which had been floated just last month, was fiercely opposed by the state’s largest teachers  union, the Massachusetts Teachers Association. Its members sent more than 45,000 critical emails to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

   Massachusetts, like most states, uses criteria such as educational credentials, training and experience for teacher licensing. The evaluation system was criticized as being too subjective.

          State data released last week on performance evaluations during the last school year showed nearly 87 percent of teachers, principals, and other educators were rated as proficient, with 8 percent judged exemplary -- the highest of four categories.  Fewer than 1 percent were unsatisfactory, a classification that could result in termination of employment. Massachusetts education commissioner Mitchell Chester said he was pleased with the evaluations.

   "These results affirm the system is heading in the right direction."

    This is the second year the state has released information on the evaluation ratings under a revamped system adopted three years ago. Critics of the old system said it resulted in passing marks for 99 percent of all teachers, an outcome that was viewed as not credible.

   Chester said the outcome of the most recent evaluations is not surprising.

   "It demonstrates our evaluators  are discerning and doing a good job of distinguishing between the vast majority of teachers who are solid and getting proficient ratings and some who are just not performing at the level we  would hope."

     About 80 percent of the state’s educators – more than 71,000 – received ratings. Massachusetts does not release the ratings for educators by name.

        The evaluations are based on multiple classroom observations and reviews of such things as lesson plans and student projects.  Student test scores were not part of this year’s educator evaluations, but will be starting in two years.

    Jeff Shea, a teacher at Belmont High School and the Massachusetts Teacher of the Year, said the evaluation system is time-consuming.

     " This requires a great deal of reflection. Typically in our job we don't have as much time as we would like  to reflect and discuss student learning with our colleagues and start analyzing results."

    Marie Pratt, principal of the Blueberry Hill School in Longmeadow, where 15.6 percent of teachers were rated exemplary and none fell into the needs improvement or unsatisfactory categories, said the evaluation system promotes teamwork.

   In Springfield, more than 10 percent of the city’s teachers were rated as needing improvement or unsatisfactory. 13 percent were rated exemplary and 74 percent proficient.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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