The Seattle teachers' union voted Thursday to approve a three-year contract following a much publicized and contentious negotiation process that threatened to delay the start of the new school year next week. At issue was whether student test scores had a bearing on teacher pay, evaluation, and termination. In the end, the union compromised and accepted rules—as they tentatively planned to do—that would allow test scores to play a role in evaluations, but would not jeopardize their jobs.
Almost 100 percent of union members at Seattle Pacific University last night also voted “no confidence” in Seattle Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson, a purely symbolic gesture, citing her inability to lead the district. A flyer distributed before the union meeting at Seattle Pacific University listed eight grievances against Goodloe-Johnson, including a state audit which warned that the district lacked control over its finances.
The union had strongly opposed the Seattle Public School's initial contract proposal, which had wanted student test scores to be part of a teacher’s final evaluation. “They wanted to use it for a high stakes evaluation which could have set up people to end up in probation or termination,” said SEA director Glenn Bafia.
Bafia said that both sides eventually arrived at an understanding at the bargaining table "that we could live with."
Under the new system, student test scores would still be used to evaluate teacher performance, just not to the extent that it could put their jobs in danger. “You can still look at test scores, but if test scores are poor it triggers an evaluation of the teacher,” said Bafia. “The administration and teacher have to sit down and discuss what’s happening in the classroom. The principal will give the teacher the support he or she needs. This is a much better approach and it still allows us to use student academic data.”
If things don’t improve after the evaluation period, teachers could be put on probation. “Of course you could eventually get fired if you don’t improve at all,” Bafia warned.
This battle is a microcosm of a national debate. A report by the LA Times which rated nearly 6,000 elementary school teachers online based on standardized test scores recently created a huge controversy, with the Los Angeles teachers union calling for the paper's boycott.