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Hawaii applied for and won a Race to the Top grant. So, of course, Hawaii was required to create a new teacher evaluation system that incorporated student test scores. Many teachers objected. Mireille Ellsworth was one of them. She especially opposed the use of “Student Learning Objectives.” She said the measures were invalid and unreliable. Because she refused to complete the “SLOs,” she got a subpar rating. She challenged the rating, and she won.
When the Hawaii Department of Education released the details of its new teacher evaluation system three years ago, veteran teacher Mireille Ellsworth made a radical decision: She would simply refuse to do part of it.
Like many teachers in the state, Ellsworth felt that linking teacher pay — even partially — to student test scores was unfair. But there were other portions of the complex and multi-tiered system that she objected to as well, including the use of Student Learning Objectives as a measure of teacher success.
“I could tell it was something that could be easily manipulated by any teacher,” Ellsworth said. “Essentially it would be a dog and pony show.”
The new evaluation system was put into place over the past five years, at a cost of millions of dollars, teacher demoralization, and untold hours of work. When the results were tallied, 97% of the state’s teachers were found to be highly effective or effective. The search for “bad” teachers was very expensive and ultimately a failure.
Ellsworth said no to the whole process.
Ellsworth, who teaches English and drama at Waiakea High School in Hilo, has a slew of objections regarding the EES. The 18-year teacher’s biggest beef though is with the Student Learning Objectives or SLOs, which she refused to complete two years in a row.
For the SLOs, teachers are asked to predict the growth or achievement of each student — something they can then come back and revise mid-semester. Ellsworth felt it was a student privacy violation for this student data to go into her personnel file, and said the data could easily be manipulated by teachers.
“It’s just an exercise in trying to justify your existence and pass it no matter what,” Ellsworth said.
She had philosophical objections to the SLOs as well.
“If a teacher has low expectations for a student, research has shown that student will perform at a lower rate,” Ellsworth said. “For me to put on paper and then in my professional portfolio online that I expect anything short of success is completely wrong and is against everything I’ve been taught.”
It is, she said, like committing “educator malpractice.”
The strongest support for test-based teacher evaluation comes from the conservative National Council of Teacher Quality, which defends the process that Ellsworth and other teachers find objectionable. NCTQ seems certain that the schools are overloaded with ineffective teachers, but does not attempt to explain why the new RTTT-mandated systems in almost every state find that 95-99% of teachers are rated effective or highly effective. All those billions spent, for what?
For her courage in resisting the government’s attempt to force her to violate her professional ethics, Mireille Ellsworth joins the blog’s honor roll of champions of public education.