Catching up to the reality already faced by many of its members, the nation’s largest teachers’ union on Monday affirmed for the first time that evidence of student learning must be considered in the evaluations of school teachers around the country.
In passing the new policy at its assembly here, the 3.2 million-member union, the National Education Association, hopes to take a leadership role in the growing national movement to hold teachers accountable for what students learn — an effort from which it has so far conspicuously stood apart.
But blunting the policy’s potential impact, the union also made clear that it continued to oppose the use of existing standardized test scores to judge teachers, a core part of the federally backed teacher evaluation overhauls already under way in at least 15 states.
“N.E.A. is and always will be opposed to high-stakes, test-driven evaluations,” said Becky Pringle, the secretary-treasurer of the union, addressing the banner-strung convention hall filled with the 8,200-member assembly that votes on union policy.
The union’s desire both to join and to stand apart from a White House-led effort to improve teacher performance represents the delicate situation it finds itself in as it confronts what Dennis Van Roekel, the union president, called “the worst environment for teachers I’ve ever seen.” Amid deep budget cuts and layoffs, the union has lost more than 30,000 members this year, and is fighting back against legislative efforts to curtail its collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin, Tennessee, Arizona and other states.