CHICAGO
07/22/2011 12:44 pm ET Updated Sep 21, 2011

Chicago Teacher Evaluation: Public Schools To Stop Blacklisting Teachers Who Fail Test

The Chicago Public Schools are changing their policy on hiring teachers based on their performance on a single test.

A scathing report in the Chicago Sun-Times on Thursday, accompanied by a strongly worded editorial, derided CPS for "blacklisting" potential teachers because of their performance on the TeacherFit evaluation tool. TeacherFit, designed by Polaris Educational Systems, is a test that claims to measure the "soft skills" required to be an effective teacher: organization, focus on students, self-initiative, and the like.

The Sun-Times reported that some very highly qualified candidates -- graduates of a highly regarded teacher-training program, a winner of a prestigious scholarship, a Dean's Lister described by a principal as "ideal" -- were barred from being hired because of how they performed on TeacherFit.

One principal, Sandy Traback, vented her frustration to the paper with her candidate being blocked over the test:

The candidate had made the Dean’s list at Michigan State and had received rave reviews from supervisors at two different CPS schools where she had student-taught and taught summer school. Traback even personally observed her summer school teaching and was impressed.

“Everybody said, ‘If you need a special education teacher, this is the one you want,’ ” Traback said.

But with the candidate sitting across her desk, Traback tried to select her on the CPS computer system and couldn’t find her application. She called CPS Human Resources, only to be told “she didn’t pass the TeacherFit evaluation. And I said, ‘what the hell is that?’ ”

"Too bad many applicants didn’t know when they took the test that failure meant being knocked out of the running," the paper wrote in a separate editorial. "And most egregiously, many applicants, including many highly desirable ones, had job offers that were rescinded after the results came in."

It didn't take long for the Sun-Times story to yield results. At around 6 p.m., new schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard sent an email out to the district's principals announcing a reversal of course on the issue.

"Effective tomorrow morning (Friday, July 22nd), all TeacherFit results will be provided to you to utilize at your discretion," he told principals. "While our goal is to continue to provide you with access to valuable and well‐researched tools, you will have the maximum discretion in their utility and will have the option to move forward with any hiring decisions that may have been impacted by this program."

But one thing CPS isn't doing is abandoning the test. Indeed, as the Chicago Tribune reported on Friday, TeacherFit is part of a new, metrics-based approach to teacher evaluation. The district likes the tool because after sending draft questions to about 1,000 teachers, it found that the results correlated strongly to principals' evaluations of the teachers. At a time when teacher evaluation and accountability is the watchword, such data-based measurements of teachers are likely to have more weight, not less, in the coming years.