Monroe: Pilot Teacher Evaluation Program Being Assessed

March 15, 2012

MONROE — Forerunners in the new teacher evaluation program pilot think the system is an overall improvement.

During a panel discussion March 10 in the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association conference room on Centre Drive, hosted by NJ Spotlight, the subject was progress of the controversial framework, which will affect teacher tenure decisions.

Last year, the state picked Monroe Township School District as one of 10 New Jersey school districts to split $1.1 million in grant funds to implement the new framework for teacher evaluation over the 2011-12 school year. The other nine districts are Alexandria, Bergenfield, Elizabeth, Ocean City, Pemberton, Red Bank, Secaucus, West Deptford and Woodstown-Pilesgrove Regional.

The pilot is designed to shape the new system for its official rollout in all districts for the 2013-14 school year.

According to the new evaluation, teachers will be assessed half on their performance through formal observations and the other half on student achievement based on standardized testing.

The discussion featured two teachers and two administrators from participating districts along with two officials from the state Department of Education. During two hours, the panel shed light on its impressions of the framework and the benefits and challenges it poses.

The panel agreed the pilot was going well and appeared to prefer the new system to the assessment it had been using previously.

The educators from Red Bank Borough Schools commended the in-depth formal observation process, which consists of a pre-observation conference, a 30- to 40-minute classroom observation and a post-observation conference.

Prior to the pre-conference, teachers are given a list of questions to answer based on their school’s individual education framework. The pre-conference allows teachers to thoroughly explain what the evaluators should expect to see in the observation, whether it’s lesson plan details or students with special needs or modifications.

Carol Boehm, a music teacher at Red Bank, emphasized the need to go over this evidence with the administrators and superintendents.

”The teachers noticed it took more prep time, but the value outweighs the prep time,” she said. “When it’s time to do the post conference, it’s a more in depth conversation and reflection — it’s a more meaningful process to grow and get feedback you can use in the classroom next time.”

Brian Gismondi, the principal at West Deptford High School, added the staff and administration have developed a common language since they began training in September.

”As administrators, we’re the leaders, but at this point, it changes how we give that feedback back to them,” Mr. Gismondi said. “Teachers feel at ease and see a point, and I really feel like I’m helping them move to the next level.”

Tanya Tenturier, a nontenured math teacher in Elizabeth City, said she was able to communicate more and be a better advocate for herself. She particularly liked the ability to request specific feedback on her weaker areas to help her improve her teaching.

Bob Fisicaro, the implementation manager of the New Jersey Department of Education, emphasized the importance of training in the new framework.

”Teachers should have a clear picture of the criteria of which they are evaluated, and the larger the districts, the more options exist to engage in turnkey training,” he said.

Turnkey trainers are teachers who undergo part of the evaluation training, then provide training to the remainder of the staff, whether it is a half day of professional development or part of professional learning community meetings.

Mr. Fisicaro said one pilot district even created an auxiliary committee to manage the messages of communication in turnkey training.

Ms. Boehm saw training as one of the advantages.

”Once we learned the process and went through the training, we understood the value of it,” she said. “You know what’s expected and needed.”

One of the major changes in the system is the use of technology.

Pilot participants used Teachscape — a data management system in which assessments are locked in to provide hard data. Also, as part of the reflection piece, video cameras are used during the observation so teachers can look back on their own work.

Laura Morana, the superintendent of Red Bank Borough Schools, said this was a huge asset for her district.

”As you generate the reports you see the evidence, and you begin to use exemplary teachers to lead professional development instead of bringing in pricey consultants,” she said.

However, the panel acknowledged capacity issues in terms of cost, time and manpower.

Ms. Morana said her district had to exceed its $57,000 grant portion and ended up paying $75,000 to effectively implement the new system.

Peter Shulman, the New Jersey assistant state education commissioner, said it is continuing to build out and find other sources of money to provide state level funding.

He recommended districts refrain from looking at the system from an up-front-cost point of view.

”This has to be woven into the fabric of what you’re already doing,” he said. “Reshaping what your day is going to look like is the right mentality.”

From a principal’s point of view, Mr. Gismondi was concerned with the strain on administrators to complete the evaluations. He told the audience his capacity of time has changed, and he now spends most of his work day in the classroom — resulting in staying after school often to complete his other work.

”I also have to run and manage the building and do another 50,000 things on top of evaluations,” he said. “It really is a lot of time — not that it isn’t worthwhile.”

A principal evaluation pilot program also is in the works of being rolled out, which will be similar to the teacher evaluation pilot.

With pilot districts six to eight months into the new evaluation system, Mr. Shulman stressed the need to continue conducting dialogue and compiling input to help mold the system into what all districts will use in the 2013-14 school year.

”There is no perfect statistical model — our goal is to improve the overall system, and we are seeing improvement,” Mr. Shulman said. “It’s like a J-Curve; you have to go down before you go up.”

The pilot will be extending next year and will include up to 30 school districts. The next round of districts also will be eligible for state funding to implement the system and train staff. Details on the application process will be available sometime in March.