Square Peg in a Round Hole – Special Education Teacher Evaluation Systems


By Jennifer Fisahn, M.Ed, BCBA

bSci21 Contributing Writer

If you are a teacher in America, teacher evaluation systems are probably on your mind.  If you are a special education teacher utilizing the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) in your classroom, they could be in your nightmares as well!  Visions of sugarplums may have been replaced with visions of rubrics, portfolios, artifacts, SGOs, SLOs, pre-observation conferences, post-observation conferences, observations….the list goes on and on. 

Surely you will earn that ‘distinguished’ level of performance after an administrator thumbs through your criterion-referenced assessments that make use of the verbal operants, peruses individual student binders that contain carefully selected programs, data sheets, and graphs, eyes the posted protocols regarding teaching procedures that involve prompt-fading and error correction, and watches while you engage in evidence-based practices such as differential reinforcement, prompting, modeling, discrete trial training, naturalistic intervention, social skills training, functional communication training, functional behavior assessment, task analysis, and video modeling…right? 

Well….maybe not. 

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), a nonpartisan research and policy organization, collected and analyzed state policies on teacher preparation, training, retention, compensation and other personnel policies. In their report, the NCTQ urged states to ensure that growth measures, observation rubrics, and surveys are fair to special education teachers stating that some existing instruments “may be inappropriate and unworkable for evaluation and observation in special education classrooms.” 

Square peg in a round hole.  As special education teachers, what can we do?

The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) has a few suggestions!  In the CEC’s Position on Special Education Teacher Evaluation – A Toolkit for Special Educators document, they propose ten innovative ways to advocate for and assist with the creation of effective special education teacher evaluation systems.  Here are a few of those suggestions:

Volunteer to be part of the process at the district or state level – Look for opportunities to serve on committees at your school, in your district, or at the state level.  In Pennsylvania, educators in unique roles served on committees to develop general and specific examples to supplement their existing teacher evaluation rubric.  View their rubric for autism support educators here.

Consider what would constitute evidence of student accomplishment for those you work with and share your ideas – Share examples of how your students demonstrate growth and the best ways to measure it.

Educate your own evaluator about your role before your evaluation – Spend some time during a pre-observation conference to discuss what you do and who you work with.  Want some talking points?  The Pennsylvania DOE formulated guiding questions for conversations between administrators and autism support teachers.  View this resource here

Be sure to check out the rest of the CEC’s suggestions for special educators regarding teacher evaluation systems and let us know what you think in the comments below.  Also, be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!

Jennifer FishanJennifer Fisahn, M.Ed., BCBA has worked with individuals with autism and their families for seventeen years.  She is a certified Teacher of the Handicapped, Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®), and parent of a child with autism.  Jennifer has public school experience teaching preschool through high-school aged students as well as extensive experience as a school district consultant, direct service provider and supervisor for home-based ABA programs.  She currently serves as the training coordinator for the Foundation for Autism Training and Education (FATE) and conducts workshops on the topics of ABA and autism.  Jennifer regularly contributes to a resource-rich blog for teachers, therapists, and caregivers and also created the S.T.A.R.S. Network, a group aimed at supporting teachers and paraprofessionals working with individuals with autism.  You can contact her at [email protected].

1 Comment on "Square Peg in a Round Hole – Special Education Teacher Evaluation Systems"

  1. This is so incredibly true. I was told by an administrator that I didn’t believe all students could learn. It’s strange… I have three bachelors degrees in education and have been a special education teacher for 6 years now. I’ve now moved onto a master’s degree focused on ABA. I’m still trying to figure out how her rubric could figure that out. Amazing, when you’re meeting every child where they are, none of your students are verbal and you’re writing all of this based on individual assessments that you could determine that from one 15 min observation. Square peg round hole, or people that are observing that have zero experience in working with some of the populations in their buildings?

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