New Teacher and Principal Evaluations Pose a Challenge for Districts to Implement

Dave Levinsky | PhillyBurbs.com
03/11/13

New Jersey public schools will begin grading teachers and principals using a new evaluation system this fall, and educators received their first look last week at proposed regulations spelling out in greater detail exactly how they will be judged.

Questions such as how much weight would be given to standardized test scores and how teachers in subjects such as art and physical education would be graded were finally answered, but trepidation about the new evaluations remains, both among the educators who will be graded and the administrators assigned the task of implementing the reforms.

 

Critics such as the New Jersey Education Association — the state’s largest teachers union — question whether the state Department of Education is putting too much weight on test scores as well as whether it’s moving too fast toward implementing the complicated overhaul.

“This is not some academic exercise. This is the careers of real people at stake,” NJEA spokesman Steve Wollmer said Friday.

Teachers and administrators alike had been anxiously waiting for more details about the evaluations since Gov. Chris Christie signed a new tenure law that permits them to be evaluated, at least in part based on their students’ test scores and other measurements of achievement.

Under the administration’s proposed regulations, fourth- through eighth-grade English and math teachers will have their students’ scores on the state’s Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (ASK) test count toward 35 percent of their evaluation. Another 15 percent will be based on one or two variable measurements, called student growth objectives, that teachers would establish with their supervisors. The remaining 50 percent is to be based on classroom observations.

For teachers in other grades or in subjects without standardized tests, such as social studies, art and gym, teachers will be evaluated based on 85 percent classroom observation and 15 percent student growth objectives.

The latter group constitutes about 80 percent of all teachers across the state, according to the Department of Education.

Principals, vice principals and assistant principals will have half their evaluations based on student achievement and the other half based on observation and on-the-job performance.

Teachers and principals will be rated yearly as highly effective, effective, partially effective or ineffective.

New educators will have to earn ratings of highly effective and effective during two of their first four years in order to obtain tenure.

Tenured educators will be in danger of losing the protection if they receive an ineffective rating for two consecutive years.

State Department of Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf said the new system is intended to help educators improve along with their students.

“We are committed to developing an educator evaluation system that honors our educators’ achievements and ensures that they have the tools they need to continuously improve and help all of our students succeed,” Cerf said.

And although the tenure overhaul law was passed with the NJEA’s support, Wollmer said the regulations proposed by the administration rely too much on test data.

“It’ll lead to more and more testing,” he said. “If parents think there’s too much testing and teaching to the test now, just you wait.”

Hainesport music teacher Cheryl Roth Kopf, who is also president of the district’s teachers union, said the state should make the 2013-14 school year a trial year for the new evaluations rather than have them count toward teachers’ records.

“I don’t think it’s fair for teachers to be judged on a new evaluation system that hasn’t been adequately tested,” Roth Kopf said. “School districts should implement it next year, but

it should be a trial year where we look at it and make sure it’s running properly. People shouldn’t face losing their jobs based on something the entire state is doing for the very first time.”

Willingboro Superintendent Ronald Taylor and other Burlington County superintendents said their districts have already devoted hundreds of hours to researching evaluation models and training administrators and staff about the new system.

Pemberton Township was one of several school districts selected by the Department of Education to serve as a pilot to develop and test both the teacher and principal evaluation metrics.

Michael Gorman, the district’s superintendent, said it was rewarding to see that the regulations proposed by the state reflected some of the district’s input. But he said the process of testing and devising the system was still ongoing.

“It’s a journey and an adventure. We’re learning as we go along,” Gorman said. “It’s putting a lot of focus on the classroom again, and that’s rewarding.”

Willingboro’s Taylor estimated that the new evaluations would triple administrators’ workloads and cost the district at least $100,000 on training.

He said that the overall goal of improving student achievement was worth the investment, but that there’s plenty left to do before fall.

“We will be ready, but it’s a heavy lift for everyone,” Taylor said. “The reality is that time is not our friend now. There’s a lot to do.” 

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