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Tracy Novick:Teacher Evaluations- In for a penny, in for a pound

Saturday, February 25, 2012


We don't know if this new teacher evaluation system is going to work. We don't know how it's going to work. We aren't actually sure which assessment systems we're going to use to evaluate teachers. We don't have much of an idea on how one includes parents and children's perspectives on teachers in evaluating.

And we really don't know how to do this in a way that's accurate and reflects what's going on in the classroom.

Tracy Novick, GoLocalWorcester Education Contributor

But we're doing it now.

We signed up for Race to the Top, we took the $250 million, and we are using this system for evaluating teachers.

Let's be clear: this is happening. If anyone tries to tell you that we won't actually be implementing a new teacher evaluation system UNLESS we pass a new law OR a new bill OR otherwise “make this real,” tell them I've got a three inch binder I'd like them to meet.

(You can create your own version of this by running off what you'll find here.)

The Level 4 schools are putting this into place this spring.
The Race to the Top districts are putting this in place this coming school year.
Everyone in the state will be putting it into place the year after that.

We are on this train and it is moving.

It's time to ask, then: what does the new system look like, so far as it's sketched out?

Teachers are now required to be evaluated in four standard areas:

  • curriculum, planning, and assessment
  • teaching all students
  • family and community engagement
  • professional culture

This is not, when put this way, a bad list. You've got the actual “in the classroom” teaching bit; you've got making sure that you don't miss a kid; you've got what you do outside your classroom to connect with your students' families and the larger community; and you've got what you contribute as a professional to the make-up of the school and the larger educational establishment. That hits much of what you'd hope would be going on with teachers. On these standards, each teacher will be rated exemplary, proficient, needs improvement, or unsatisfactory.

As with any good theory, the trick is in how it works out on the ground. The idea is supposed to be, according to the District-Level Planning and Implementation Guide, for “each educator [to take] a leading role in shaping his/her professional growth and development.” Each teacher has to come up at least two goals: one on student learning and one on the teacher's practice. The layout of the plans emphasizes again and again that this is to be a collaborative process. 

There is however a second rating that is going to be phased in: a rating of educator impact on student learning. This stands all by itself as a separate “low/moderate/high” rating, beginning in 2013-14. As student assessment data is also going to feed into the “curriculum, planning, and assessment” section above, this will count this data twice. We're told that this will be based on “student growth data” despite the troubling issues surrounding student growth percentiles

For the 17% of teachers that have students that take the MCAS exam, certainly, the MCAS will be part of this. What other “district-determined measures of student learning” will be included are yet to be determined and are subject to yet-to-be-issued guidelines from the state.

The new evaluation system requires teachers to assemble their own evidence on how their goals are being met. In addition to the numbers mentioned above, this may well include student work, classroom records, and so forth.

The classroom observation—generally, until now, the main method of teacher evaluation we had (when it happened)--is also changing; to wit:

Brief unannounced visits fit the hectic schedule of a school
administrator. Experts have estimated that an evaluator can
make as many as eight 10-15 minute, unannounced observations
and provide useful feedback for each in the time it could have
taken him/her to do a single, traditional full-period announced
observation with scheduled pre- and post-conferences and
lesson write up.

The theory then is teachers will be seeing the evaluators more often, but not for nearly as long.
Will those evaluators be any better trained than they were in the past? In this new evaluation method, yes: the evaluation regulations call for training in this new system. In actual teaching and subject matter? No.

Unfortunately, there is nothing in the new regulations calling for any better training of the evaluators on teaching and learning, and so that is the same game of chance—will the evaluator understand a lab science? Or kindergarten?--that it has been right along. 

There are two saving graces in this system: it is not a complete system yet, and the state is asking for comments. From the very opening, Commissioner Chester comments “we will continue to improve the Model System...based on what we learn with the field over the next few years.” It is vitally important that anyone touched by education weigh in as this new system moves forward. 

Comments are accepted at [email protected].  


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