Hartford Schools, Union Agree To Teacher Evaluation System
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
March 22, 2012
HARTFORD — — The school system and Hartford Federation of Teachers have agreed on a teacher evaluation system that calls for more classroom observations and training for educators, including a districtwide plan to improve how supervisors do the evaluating.
The agreement was solidified this week when the school board unanimously approved a $940,753 contract with Teachscape, an online training system that features videos of exemplary teaching and a framework for how administrators should assess teachers.
Administrators will begin their training next month and the new evaluations are expected to start in the 2012-13 school year.
The pact also looks to link student achievement to evaluations, but does not attempt to associate standardized test scores with teacher pay — a controversial element of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's proposed education reform package.
The State Board of Education in February adopted guidelines that tie 45 percent of teacher evaluations to student achievement, with half of that based on test scores. In Hartford, a process for assessing student growth is expected to be completed this spring and would likely involve scores as a measure.
"We need to keep pace with where the state is going," said Jennifer Allen, the schools' chief talent officer. "We're looking toward what kinds of measures will supplement classroom observations to give teachers comprehensive feedback."
New Haven's evaluation system remains the most aggressive in Connecticut — its revamping was worked into the teachers' contract beginning in 2010.
Still, Hartford is touting its own agreement. In a rare scene Tuesday night, the union leaders, administrators and school board members all expressed exuberant support for what has been a touchy issue. They consider the new system to be fair and consistent, with professional development and clear standards on effective teaching.
The school system's talks with the union began in November 2010.
"I think Hartford was at a crossroads," said HFT President Andrea Johnson, who represents the union's roughly 1,800 members. "A new evaluation document was definitely in order ... the time was right."
"We knew that teachers saw there were weaknesses in the system," Allen said. "And I know that we did ... specifically, inconsistencies in the types of feedback the teachers were getting."
The level and frequency of classroom evaluations currently vary from one school to the next.
But it took five months until a core 19-member committee of union leaders, principals, teachers and central office administrators could agree on basic themes that would be addressed in the new system. The breakthrough last April came after an American Federation of Teachers conference in Washington, D.C., that administrators attended with a group of teachers and union representatives, Allen said.
Three principles listed in Hartford's Identifying Instructional Excellence pact are:
* "Quality teaching is the most important factor affecting student learning."
* "If our goal is to close the achievement gap, then we must do everything in our power to have an effective or highly effective teacher in every classroom."
* "The expectations we hold for our teachers have to be matched by equal expectations from the district to provide resources to these teachers."
The committee also needed to reach consensus on a rubric. After initial battling over a few possibilities, Allen said, members last year supported the latest version of Charlotte Danielson's Framework for Teaching.
The Danielson framework divides teaching standards into four main segments — planning and preparation, the classroom environment, instruction and professional responsibilities — and offers strategies that include videos of master teachers at work. The Teachscape contract runs through the 2013-14 school year.
Under Hartford's plan, teachers with less experience will receive more frequent classroom evaluations. Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said paraprofessionals would be the next group to receive similar support.
"We want our teachers trained many hours," Johnson said. "That was really, really important to us. ... Every school will be looking at the same thing, and that's huge in an evaluation document."
In late August, teachers will spend three days in training before the first day of classes. The school calendars for the next two years also include an early release day every second Wednesday of the month for professional development.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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