[image-1]Concerned teachers and parents clamored for a suitable explanation from Charleston County Schools Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait Monday evening as overflow crowds packed district offices. Recent claims that teachers were being evaluated solely on student test scores have been at the forefront of recent Charleston County School Board meetings, with educators protesting a system that many feel places their careers and students in jeopardy.

In response to the wave of comments from the crowd, Postlewait stated that student data will not and has not been used in teacher employment decisions. The superintendent attributed the rift to an “honest miscommunication” between herself and members of her staff as it relates to increasing pressure to place teachers on performance plans based on test results. Postlewait’s statements were met with shouts from the crowd to “Tell the truth.”

A majority of the teachers who addressed the school board Monday night claimed that they feel under the microscope due to an evaluations process they can’t understand. The secrecy surrounding the Educational Value Added Assessment System (EVAAS) that has drawn the ire of many local educators is also the focus in Houston, Tex., where a federal judge ruled earlier this month that educators can proceed with a lawsuit against their district over teacher evaluations. As reported by the Houston Chronicle, the secret algorithm used to evaluate teacher performance prohibited employees the right to challenge their terminations, thus denying their right to due process.

While Postlewait denied that student test scores alone had been used to evaluate teachers, claims to the contrary have continued to arise.

In a letter to district officials sent last week, James B. Edwards Principal Jake Rambo claimed that he was told to “use testing data to place educators on improvement plans” and cited student test scores as a reason for his being reassigned to another school. After two years at James B. Edwards Elementary and 10 years with the district, Rambo submitted his resignation letter, claiming “fundamental, philosophical differences” with district leadership.

The district’s official response stated that they were unable to discuss the specifics of Rambo’s allegations due to his move being a “personnel matter,” but added “[We] wish to make it clear that state law and State Board of Education regulations outline the evaluation process for teachers, and the district acts consistently with them.”

In response to Postlewait’s claims of miscommunication, School Board member Michael Miller recalled the debacle earlier this year when it was announced that the district would ax the stringed instrument lessons for elementary students. The following day, the district withdrew that statement, explaining, “We want you to know that this communication was released prematurely, before the matter had been discussed with senior district staff, the superintendent, and the Board of Trustees. CCSD is fully committed to continuing and even expanding the strings program and is resolutely determined to locate highly capable strings instructors for our students.”

After another alleged communications misstep, Miller said, “I can’t speak for other members of the board, but for me we need to do a better job.”

The School Board also postponed a decision on two proposed policy changes that drew support from the vocal crowd in attendance. One proposed revision set to be discussed at a June Committee of the Whole meeting would establish a minimum tenure of three to five years for principals in Charleston County, in which they would not be subject to removal except under extreme circumstances. The other proposal would place more control over the hiring of principals into the hands of board members and the public.

While board member Kevin Hollinshead said he was concerned that the delay was simply an effort to stall any proposed changes, fellow board members Cindy Bohn Coats and Chris Staubes questioned the language of the proposed revisions, with Staubes saying he felt like the board was “shooting from the hip” when it comes to possibly approving such changes.