Putting the Teacher Evaluation Pilot in Perspective

May 14, 2012

 NJ Spotlight on Saturday hosted the second in a series of roundtable discussions about New Jersey’s pilot teacher evaluation program, in which 10 districts and another 19 schools are testing new methods for how teachers are judged on both their own performance and that of their students.

Sitting on the panel were the director of the state program and four educators working with the system from Newark, Paterson and Elizabeth. More than 150 attended the two-hour discussion held in the City Council chambers of Jersey City’s City Hall.

Still in the first year of the pilot, the teachers and principals talked about the training so far and their impressions as to how it already has changed the conversations in the schools, mostly in good ways. The state’s plan is for the pilot to extend another year, and then go to a statewide system in 2013-14.

They discussed the evaluation model developed by New Jersey consultant Charlotte Danielson, which has proven the most popular so far, and why it works. All employed in high-poverty districts, the educators also didn’t shy away from talking about the special challenges faced in their communities.

Nor did they shy away from the biggest controversy of any such system, the use of student achievement measures including standardized test scores in deciding on as much as half of a teacher’s grade.

Below are some excerpts. NJ Spotlight will also be providing a video of the event in the next few weeks.

Carolyn DelPiano, special education math teacher, Snyder High School, Jersey City

I do value the fact that there is a common [standard] . . . before this model, it was more a question of who was coming in to evaluate you and what would that particular person look for. You tailored your lesson to that. Now it is common standard, and everybody is on the same page. And there is a rubric that everyone has as to what the perfect teacher looks like. It is valuable to have that to recognize and reflect upon myself and where I fit.

From my perspective in a high school level I have changed or altered how I do my job because of the evaluation model. If I have a trigonometry class, for instance, and no student in that class is above a 3rd or 4th grade math level, there were things and projects that I have done in the past, like life skills projects or job related, I would find time to squeeze in. But I find there is now more a focus on meeting the trigonometry curriculum, because in the end, they will assess me on it.

Diane Tolman, school improvement supervisor, Martin Center for Arts, Jersey City

We gave our teachers three days of training, and we talked about . . . it wasn’t our job to make judgments. Our job is to come in and observe what the kids are doing, what the teachers are doing. We told them it wasn’t about them personally, but about what is happening in the classroom and what takes place in the classroom.

One of the reasons the Charlotte Danielson model is so popular is she gives videos of what is expected in the evaluation. The teachers had a tool to use. . . where if they were looking for student engagement, they had access to the videos of what student engagement really looks like. It also provides professional development and support around specific skills.

Tanya Tenturier, fourth-grade, Terence Reilly Elementary School, Elizabeth

I cannot stress enough putting the responsibility for learning on the children. The teacher’s position is to create a culture where learning will take place and nothing else. You can make it as fun and interactive as it has to be, but the bottom line is learning has to take place.

I understand there are assessments, and before we get to NJASK we have own assessments. But where we focus on the test is the source of some of the problems we have now. On the benchmarks, if I told you they did stellar on every single one, that would be a lie, they don’t. But I know what they need to know and I revamp the curriculum to fit their needs and not fit the test’s needs. Until your scholars needs are met at even a very basic level, did you have breakfast, what went on at home last night, all of those things have to be addressed or you don’t even have an audience.

Gemar Mills, principal, Malcolm X Shabazz High School, Newark

There is not always the discussion of the process you go through to have a teacher removed. It does exist. It is fairly extensive, depending on the situation. If the teacher is tenured, there has to have been past diligence in evaluations and documenting other poor performance, besides the evaluation tool but also other professional responsibilities, like attendance or making phone calls, being part of the community in school. They may see an increment withheld, where they would not receive a raise any longer until it was proven they were an effective teacher. And then in the follow-up in the second year, the teacher could be brought up on tenure charges. That process does exist and something we live every day. Not something you want to boast about. You want to do your absolute best to support the teacher and help them do what they need to do, but the truth is, you are CEO of the company, the principal of the school, then you have to get rid of people who are not good for children.

Whatever assessment we provide, it has to be aligned to the curriculum you give to the teachers, and the teachers understand that. And the state needs to be transparent, so the schools knows what will be on the test, what are the standards that need to be met for a student to be college and career ready. Then it won’t matter if you are teaching to the test or not. You will be teaching the student to be college and career ready. In the past, there has been some secrecy about what is exactly will be on the test.

Robert Fisicaro, program director, Excellent Educators for New Jersey, NJ DOE

It goes to the overarching question of whether students are learning. Most people would agree that student achievement and how students perform should be a part of the evaluation. It is how it links that is where most of the discussions I have had so far, how is it measured, what method does it use.

This is still a work in process, and there is at sill a lot of work that needs to be done. We want to be ready in 2013-2014, and we really think that that we will be. But there is still a lot of work to be done. There is a sense of urgency around this work, but at the same time, we want to proceed carefully and thoughtfully because there are still a lot of lessons to learn.