State Adds New Requirements to Pilot Program for Evaluating Teachers

March 28, 2012

The state announced new twists Wednesday in its effort to devise better teacher evaluations: requiring unannounced classroom observations, including some by educators from outside the teacher’s building.

Now teachers typically are told in advance when they are to be observed in the classroom for formal evaluations, which often are conducted by their supervisors. The precise conditions for observations often are spelled out in union contracts. A spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association declined to comment on the new guidelines late Wednesday.

The new requirements were part of the state Department of Education’s announcement that it has allocated $2.4 million to add up to 20 districts in the second year of a pilot project to develop the new evaluations. Some of the money would be used to give additional support to 10 districts, includingBergenfield, that already are participating in the experiment.

All New Jersey districts are gearing up for a statewide rollout of new teacher and principal evaluations in 2013-14. Districts currently use their own systems, but the Christie administration is pushing for more rigorous and uniform methods, with half of each evaluation based on student growth, and half on observations of classroom practice. Critics have argued the administration’s agenda relies too heavily on test data and unreliable models for linking teachers to their students’ progress.

Districts that want to compete for one of the 20 new spots in the pilot program in the coming school year must apply by April 26. Districts already in the program are still wrestling with ways to measure students’ growth in grades and subjects that don’t have state tests. State officials said Wednesday they would allow more flexibility in those areas.

Christie wants to change tenure rules so that getting and keeping that job protection is more dependent on consistently good performance reviews.