Schools Prep For Mandates

NEW KNOXVILLE — State mandates to address teacher evaluations and to change standardized testing requirements are inflating the staff budgets of districts already surviving budget cuts.

New Knoxville Superintendent Kim Waterman said she doesn’t expect a larger budget for 2013, despite the school spending more than its projected revenue. The school has looked at bus routes, staff and other costs for areas to cut, but staff hours are increasing because teachers need continued training to keep up with state mandates.

“Even though we try to make cuts, we’re mandated to do this or do that without extra money,” Waterman said.

Administration costs have been cut, as Waterman consolidated the superintendent’s position and the elementary school principal position. However cutting teachers wouldn’t be something Waterman said she’s willing to do right now because she doesn’t want to increase the student to teacher ratio at a time when standardized tests are going to increase in difficulty.

If Waterman sees a rising number of hours devoted to keeping up with curriculum and staff evaluation methods sent down from the state level, she’s not alone.

New Bremen Superintendent Howard Overman said he has seen the same thing happen in his district, where the first-year pilot of a new teacher evaluation method will start next year. The new method of evaluating teachers will include a principal spending much more time observing the teacher and reporting performance to the state.

The evaluations will be ongoing over the course of the year, with walk-throughs, conferences, and 50 percent of the teacher’s evaluation based on student growth. Principals have to evaluate every teacher every year, and if that was all they ever had to do, they could get it done, Overman said, but it will be in addition to their already full schedule.

Changing in standardized testing has required extra hours for teachers because the initiative changes at what grade levels different skills are taught, and makes them more advanced, meaning the teachers have to research ways to teach the new skills.

New Bremen High School Principal Brian Pohl told the school board last week that he has attended seminars on the new standards, but left with questions. Even as schools are adjusting to the mandates, the mandates are changing. Overman told the board last week he may wait to re-present mandates to staff until the state is done changing requirements.

Teachers have to worry about whether students will perform well because half of a teacher’s evaluation will be based on how their students perform on the tests, even for teachers whose students traditionally have trouble with those tests, like teachers of special education classes.

“No one is exempt,” Overman said.

Even as curriculum at each grade level changes on the tests, the method of standardized testing will change as well. There is a move to technology-based testing, meaning that the schools have to make sure they have the technology available, and students have practice using the tools for the tests.

A teacher with inadequate progress will be asked to take classes that address his or her weaknesses.

“We’re all nervous about (the evaluations) a little,” Overman said. “We’re looking at data, making adjustments, and asking what type of interventions students need.”

The school also has to decide when the school will teach things that are not mandated by the state. “As staff, and as administrative staff, we want to make sure our students are successful,” Overman said. “We can’t rely on mandates for that all the time.”