New Teacher Evaluation System to Receive Additional Funding from New Jersey Department of Education

March 31, 2012

 It’s “the key to the future of education reform,” said Frank Belluscio III of the state’s new teacher-evaluation program.

Belluscio, director of communications for the New Jersey School Boards Association, believes that the program is not only a promising one but well worth more prep time, which it’s going to get very soon.

Ten of the state’s public school districts — including West Deptford — are already implementing the new teacher-evaluation plan as part of a pilot project.

Preparing the program for its statewide rollout in the 2013 - 2014 school year, the Department of Education has announced the allocation of $2.4 million to fund up to 20 additional pilot districts, as well as continued support for the original 10, to tweak the new system’s ins and outs.

Among the districts participating in the pilot program during Year One, West Deptford has found the opportunity a bit time-consuming but rewarding.

“Given the time-frame to implement the pilot, I think it’s gone extremely well,” said Kristin O’Neil, the district’s director of curriculum. “We’ve had all of our staff and teachers trained since the beginning, and we’ve been doing classroom observations since Dec. 2011.

O’Neil admits it hasn’t been an easy task, but that everyone involved has risen to the occasion.

The faculty and other personnel have been “absolutely amazing,” O’Neil said Friday. “I could not have asked them to approach this task in any more of a professional manner than they already have.”

“The best part of the entire experience,” the curriculum director added, “is the conversations we’re having. We’ve been extremely focused. I think it’s going to get better and better, and I really think our teachers have had a chance to really have a voice in this.”

O’Neil said she hopes the district will consider participating in Year Two of the pilot, but she has to consult all involved parties before making a decision and applying for additional funding.

According to Deptford Township Board of Education President Walter “Butch” Berglund, Deptford’s school’s are looking to apply for funding and hope to have the same evaluation process up and running this fall to stay ahead of the curve.

While the evaluation system is currently an unfunded mandate and school districts will have to allocate money for the implementation, all districts will be expected to have the system in full swing by the 2013 - 2014 school year.

The pilot’s main principles were guided by consistency and fairness in observations and in monitoring the learning outcomes of students, developing a database from both observations and performance.

According to DOE, feedback from the pilot’s first year has established that the second year will include unannounced observations, more flexibility for teachers in measures of student outcomes in non-tested subjects and grades, and new observation processes, including the use of external observers, as opposed to just supervisors and administrators within the district.

“We do believe it did create some good conversations between administrators and teachers,” said New Jersey Education Association’s Associate Director of Research Dr. Rosemary Knab. “We know there have been some challenges [in the districts] with finding time for the training and getting to the point they needed to get to. From our perspective, they still have a way to go, and I think it’s good the [DOE] is going for a second year.”

Knab said there’s much fine-tuning needed for the system, but she is of the opinion that having external evaluators might not be the best course of action, especially if they don’t know the inner workings and culture of each school or district.

According to Knab, instead of the two- to three-day training period for teachers and administrators, the DOE will just expect training to be “rigorous,” without a set number of training hours required.

Though rollout for hundreds of districts within the state is said to be required by the fall of 2013, Knab explained that each district will need to establish an evaluation committee by this November in order to prepare. She added that, by January 2013, districts will have to select one of the multiple evaluation models they’ll be implementing, and by August 2013, every evaluator within the district will need to be trained.

“Because we know that the teacher in front of the classroom is the most important in-school factor affecting student achievement, we are working hard to develop a new teacher evaluation system that will provide meaningful feedback and actionable data to help all of our teachers, regardless of experience, continuously improve their practice,” said DOE Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf.

“We owe it to our educators to get this right,” Cerf added, “and we are confident that, after monitoring progress in our pilot districts over multiple years, we will have a statewide system in 2013 - 2014 that provides more meaningful support to every New Jersey teacher.”