DOE on Right Path With Evaluations

September 23, 2011

 Everyone knows there are great teachers, good teachers, so-so teachers and lousy teachers. But it’s not enough for parents and administrators simply to say, “We know a good teacher when we see one.”

Teacher evaluations must be conducted with more than instinct as a guide. But coming up with procedures by which school administrators can effectively and objectively measure and judge performance is not an easy task. In some ways, it remains a kind of Holy Grail of education reform. But state Department of Education may be getting closer to finding it.

Last week, it announced the 11 school districts in the state, including West Deptford and Pemberton, were chosen for a pilot program, called the “Excellent Educators for New Jersey (EE4NJ),” designed to work out a new evaluation system for teachers over the course of the 2011-12 school year. With perhaps a little too much optimism, the DOE expects to roll out an improved system framework statewide in 2012.

These districts will implement a new framework for evaluating teachers based on multiple measures of teacher practice and student performance, based on seven of what the state calls “core principles.” And, in fact, the state wants just such a faramework, even as its stated goal remains allowing districts the “flexibility to develop evaluation systems that will best meet the needs of their teachers.” This represents a subtle shift away from the administration’s insistence that teachers be evaluated more directly on test results. The NJEA, never against evaluations in principle, now has some buy-in with the pilot program.

The most important core principles include:

“Teachers should never be evaluated on the basis of a single consideration, such as test scores, much less a single score from a single test, but rather on the basis of multiple measures that include both learning outcomes and effective practices, with approximately 50 percent associated with each.”

This is a smart approach designed to lessen teachers merely “teaching to the test.”

“To avoid penalizing teachers who work with our highest need students, evaluation criteria should favor student progress and not absolute performance.”

As they should. The challenges in the poorest schools are different and more daunting. Real progress by individual students in reading, math and other skills is key.

Obviously, there is work involved in translating core principles into better teacher evaluations and in applying them statewide. These pilot districts will help chart the course.

At least this is a small sign that Christie and educators may be able to find some common ground.