The Teacher Evaluation Work Group created by Governor Dennis Daugaard's not-yet enacted education reform bill met last week, June 12 and 13, in Pierre. In one of the few positive signs to come out of the tar and feathers of HB 1234, the TEWG and the other work groups thus far named appear to be taking a wholly public approach to their work. Participants are viewing the meetings as open, and we can expect the Department of Education to post minutes online, so there are at least no secrets about what havoc these groups will help foist upon our schools.

Recall that the Teacher Evaluation Work Group's raison d'être is to develop the teacher evaluation and rating system that HB 1234 mandates that all school districts use starting in the 2014-2015 school year. The referral drive against HB 1234 will have no impact on the Teacher Evaluation Work Group's development of this tool. Even if we put HB 1234 on hold and kill it on the November ballot, the Department of Education wants this state teacher evaluation model on record as a minimum standard or model that schools can choose to follow. The TEWG will meet again July 23-24, then twice more to finalize work by November and report to the Legislature by December, regardless of whether the legal mandate for said work and report withstands referendum.

The only thing that the defeat of HB 1234 may change about the model evaluation instrument is the weight given to quantitative data and test scores. I suspect that change will come because the educators in the room recognize that giving so much weight to test scores in evaluating both teacher and student performance is a flawed, toxic policy that only feeds the privatizing corporate beast. Giving the TEWG that freedom to improve the teacher evaluation model is reason enough to repeal HB 1234.

Quantitative tests will figure somehow into the evaluation formula. HB 1234 requires that teachers of English, math, and science in grades 3-8 and 11 be evaluated on the basis of the state-mandated Dakota STEP tests. To evaluate teachers in other fields and grades, districts must approve some other quantitative assessment.

Consider what that means for me. As the French teacher at Spearfish High School, I am the only district staff member capable of putting together any sort of French language assessment, not to mention score it. Spearfish could allow me to write and score the tests that will determine my evaluation and my pay. But the math and English teachers next door don't get that privilege. To protect their rating and pay, they have to teach to a test whose questions and answers they don't get to see or score.

Now I happen to think I can write a more authentic and challenging assessment of French speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills than any bubble test Pearson and the Dakota STEP may throw at my kids. But how many of you think I can? More importantly, how many of you trust me to do so when an easy test producing high student scores might boost my pay?

If my kids' scores on a French test I write earn me a distinguished rating and $5000 in merit pay, but one of my math or English colleagues sees kids sandbag the mandatory Dakota STEP and thus misses out on a top rating and bonus, there may be blood. To prevent a riot at the next teacher meeting, my administration will have a strong motivation to buy external French tests... and history tests... and art tests... and PE tests... and tests for every other field and every other grade not covered by the Dakota STEP.

There is some discussion of incorporating ACT, SAT, AP, and IP scores, but no one knows yet if Pierre will permit schools to include that data in teacher evaluations.

The TEWG doesn't get to decide how often we will test students to produce the quantitative data we need to make the state-mandated teacher evaluation scheme work. The Governor said in January that he wants standardized tests for all students three times a year, pre-, mid-, and post-tests to show student growth. Economically, schools and the state may have to settle for post-tests.

The Teacher Evaluation Work Group is one of three groups meeting to put the policies of HB 1234 into practice, whether we the voters want them or not. Each group has a webpage and a DoE contact person. If you want to know and perhaps have input on what's coming to your school, contact those folks and tell them what you think:

Related: Don't blame the committee members; they're just good folks from around the state with a lot of different views about HB 1234, trying to serve their community and make the best lemonade they can. But Diane Ravitch reminds us that HB 1234 is part of a nationwide wave of "reforms" that stand opposed to democracy, not to mention good educational practice.