Late last month, the Connecticut State Board of Education unanimously approved consensus guidelines developed by the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) with an eye to reform teacher evaluation practices.
The guidelines call for a teacher's evaluation are to be based as follows:
- 45% on achievement of goals and/or objectives for student growth, using multiple indicators of academic growth and development to measure those goals/objectives;
- 40% on observation of teacher practice and performance;
- 10% on parent or peer feedback, including surveys;
- 5% on whole-school student learning indicators or student feedback.
PEAC began its work in November 2010 and includes representatives from the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS), Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE), Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS), Connecticut Federation of School Administrators (CSFA), Regional Educational Service Centers (RESC), Connecticut Education Association (CEA), and the American Federation of Teachers-Connecticut (AFT-CT.)
The approved guidelines will "inform implementation of model teacher and administrator evaluation and support systems in 10 pilot districts" starting in September, according to the State Department of Education website and is planned to be implemented statewide by 2013. The closest pilot district to Greenwich is Norwalk.
As part of the process, the pilot districts will provide feedback to the University of Connecticut's Neag School of Education that in turn will "analyze administration and results" and report back to the General Assembly in October 2013.
The roll-out time line by fall 2013 proposed by the State Department of Education (SDE) seems ambitious as earlier this month, the pilot districts first met with the state. A definitive plan beyond input weighting has yet to be communicated.
The adoption of these guidelines is a paradigm shift for Connecticut.
The SDE states that the guidelines will establish "a system that utilizes evaluations to provide smarter, more targeted supports for educators; that conditions the receipt of teacher tenure on the receipt of positive annual evaluations; and, when necessary, allows for the removal of ineffective educators."
Connecticut Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor said, "These guidelines will bring fairness, multiple inputs, and a well-rounded set of perspectives to measuring and improving teacher and principal practice in Connecticut. The quality of teachers and school leaders are the most important in-school factors affecting student achievement. The guidelines adopted today serve as a cornerstone of our talent strategy, in which the state will partner with district leaders to enhance educator quality—with the ultimate goal of driving increases in student performance."
"This seems to be the flavor of the month across the nation,"
So say Cathy Delehanty, president of the Greenwich Education Association (GEA) which is part of CEA and NEA and represents approximately 860 FTE (full time employees) who are part of GEA. The GEA is one of the more than 160 local teacher unions in Connecticut whose membership totals 41,000.
Delehanty's biggest concerns with the approved state plan is that she believes that there is "no substantial evidence that links test scores to teacher evaluation or salary" in the areas of improvement.
We don’t ignore test scores. We look at it a different way.
Greenwich's evaluation system called TEPL, or Teacher Evaluation Plan, is a process designed to demonstrate how well teachers are doing and how they may improve their practices. It is also meant to alleviate concerns that the district is employing bad teachers. The process is continually refined as it about to start the third year of full year of its implementation. While teachers are evaluated annually, every fourth year a teacher is required to present their capabilities in a more in depth manner which is a complete teaching plan focused on a specific topic called a Unit of Instruction. Based on the results of TEPL, a teacher is given support in areas which need development or improvement.
Greenwich is ahead of the curve
That's what Delahanty believes. "Our evaluation plan surpasses anything that has been implemented right now," said Delehanty. While the district doesn't link tests scores to the TEPL process, each individual school through its own School Improvement Plan, thoroughly and collaboratively develops plans for improvement. Delehanty said that this "focus is far more instrumental" and asks questions like "what is needed? and where is it needed?"
"The dialogue will make the difference"
While TEPL "thoroughly looks at a teacher's performance utilizing multiple indicators to help improve," it is the feedback method that is used which makes it even more effective she believes. "It develops a better relationship between the evaluator and teacher in reaching a common goal" rather than arriving at a "punishment."
Through the current TEPL process, the "evaluator really sees where there are concerns and can accurately report out" which for Delehanty upholds the "validity of the reports" in contrast to end-of-year reports "filled with information because it has to." Delehanty believes that "Greenwich is very focused on training and re-training evaluators every year," specifically crediting the district's central office with a proper eye on keeping the evaluators abreast of best practices.
As far as abandoning TEPL for another evaluation system, on one hand Delehanty feels that it could send a message "that teachers aren’t doing their best to help students as it is now." In addition, she is concerned that "after we put all of this time, energy and money into developing a new evaluation system and test scores don’t improve, then what?"
"Are we there yet?' she asks, "we are getting closer...I get happier every year with the changes and the adjustments," emphasizing that she is supportive if improving teacher evaluations.
How Will Greenwich Be Impacted?
One of the architects of TEPL, Deputy Superintendent Dr. Ellen Flanagan, explained that "the District has spent a considerable amount of time and resources over the past four years to implement a research-based teacher evaluation plan that sets a rigorous standard for teaching and learning in the Greenwich Public Schools."
The evaluation process is based upon the level the level of experience a teacher may possess and combines formal observation with written feedback as well as informal observations. The observations are more frequent during the early phases of a teacher's career when more frequent feedback is deemed important. By the third phase which is focused on experienced, tenured teacher, the process becomes a four-year cycle of informal reviews culminating in the fourth year with a Unit of Instruction review.
As the pilot phase for the 10 Connecticut districts begins this fall, Flanagan said that as far as Greenwich is concerned, "the district will continue its close monitoring of the information from the State Department of Education to determine what if any changes would need to be made to our current plan."
As far as seeking a waiver from the state, Flanagan stated that "no decision will be made regarding a waiver until we have better understanding of the state expectations."