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Teacher Evaluation System Clears Final Hurdle

Student Achievement Is Most Important Factor In Framework Approved By State Board Of Education


February 10, 2012

Teachers and principals won't make the grade unless their students are making academic strides, according to a new evaluation system that the State Board of Education approved Friday.

"Student learning is the single most important factor" in the new evaluation system, said Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, "and we're very proud of that, and it's the precisely right way to go about it."

A broad coalition representing teachers, administrators, local boards of education and state officials — called the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council, or PEAC — hammered out the new evaluation system in the past two weeks after about two years of wrangling. The state board's vote was the final hurdle, and its approval was widely expected.

Allan Taylor, chairman of the State Board of Education, said the advisory council members' unanimous agreement on the new system was "quite an impressive testament on their ability to come together on an important and controversial question. … I certainly wouldn't have predicted that a year ago."

Historically, teachers have been reluctant to see their evaluations tied to student performance, arguing that a student's test scores don't necessarily reflect a teacher's skills.

The new evaluation system for teachers and principals will take into account additional factors, including observation of the educational professionals at work, and feedback from peers, parents and possibly students.

But the largest chunk of the assessment of a teacher — 45 percent — will be based on student achievement. Of that 45 percent, half will be based on test scores, and the other half will be related to other types of student work, such as student portfolios.

Teachers won't be evaluated based on students' raw test scores but on the progress their students make or don't make in raising them.

Although the leaders of the statewide teachers unions — the Connecticut Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers Connecticut — have supported the new system, Andrea Johnson, president of the Hartford Federation of Teachers, told the state board Friday that her organization "greatly opposes" the framework and called it an "unfair plan."

The new evaluation system will not take into account "the socioeconomic conditions within a school district" that have an "enormous impact on the final results," Johnson said.

She said it's been "proven time and again ... that poverty affects the education of students."

"The PEAC seems to have not taken this important fact into consideration when the …formula was created," Johnson said. "How is this requirement fair … for all teachers? … PEAC seems to feel the playing field is common to all students. Well, it's not."

But Johnson's view was the only negative note registered on the evaluation system at Friday's meeting.

Sharon Palmer, president of AFT Connecticut, of which the Hartford group is a member, said: "Our urban teachers are very concerned that this is going to put an undue burden on the already hard work that they do. … They work so terribly hard and they are constantly maligned and criticized."

But, Palmer emphasized, the evaluation framework looks at "growth, not a particular score."

Even so, she said, it might be that a child without the advantages of a middle-class environment won't make progress as quickly. "Sometimes expectations are beyond what can be accomplished," Palmer said, "particularly in an urban setting without all the bells and whistles of the suburban schools."

Pryor said: "It's understandable that there will be qualms, there will be questions. I think that as the process unfolds it will become clear to all involved that this system is very fair" and will provide "the kind of quality evaluation that teachers deserve."

"It's not evaluation for evaluation's sake," Pryor said. "It's not 'gotcha.' … The point of the system is to enable professionals to improve their practice."

Pryor said he likes to refer to it as an "evaluation and support system" because it's critical that the districts have a "support infrastructure" in place to help teachers improve their performance.

Theresa Hopkins-Staten, vice chairwoman of the state board, asked what will happen to a teacher who has a below-standard evaluation. "Is that teacher allowed to teach?" she asked. "If so, will there be someone in the classroom to provide support?"

Pryor said it will be a district-by-district scenario. It might be that a "coach" would be embedded in the classroom or the teacher could be placed among a cohort of teachers who would be coached together. And, he said, the teacher could be subject to firing, depending on the situation.

Pryor said it's not yet clear when the new evaluation system will start.

In addition to student performance, observations of teachers and principals at work will account for 40 percent of an evaluation.

For teachers, 10 percent of an evaluation will be based on feedback from peers and parents; the remaining 5 percent will be based on the entire school's student achievement or student feedback.

For principals, 10 percent will be based on feedback from staff, the community and possibly students. The remaining 5 percent will be tied to teachers' effectiveness and opportunities for teachers' growth and professional development.

State Seeking WaiverTo No Child Left Behind

The board also heard details about the state's application for a waiver of the No Child Left Behind Act regulations. Under the federal act, all children are supposed to reach a proficiency level in mathematics and reading by 2014.

As in many other states, education leaders in Connecticut have said that the No Child Left Behind Act's goals are unrealistic. On Thursday, President Barack Obama announced that 10 states would be granted waivers. State officials plan to file Connecticut's application for a waiver by Feb. 21.

Pryor said that the state is "very well-positioned" in its application for the waiver because many of the elements required are already underway in the state.

These include a requirement for a teacher and school leader evaluation system like the one the board approved Friday and a program to turn around low-performing schools — which is the object of the Commissioner's Network that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced last week.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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