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Fine Print: New Teacher Evaluation Guidance

What it is: The Christie administration last month sent out notice of more than $2 million in grants for school districts to join the state’s teacher evaluation pilot now underway to develop a statewide system for 2013-14. Last weekend, it sent out additional guidance for the 10 districts already in the pilot, breaking down how student performance should fit into teachers’ grades in this first year as well.

What it means: The guidance for the first time lays out how the vast majority of teachers in the pilot and the state as whole -- those who do not teach language arts and math in the seven grades tested by the state -- will themselves be graded for student achievement. It offers a range of options for gauging their students, but also gives districts flexibility to make that performance count just 15 percent of the final evaluation. That’s a big difference from the system for teachers in tested subjects and grades, who will see student test scores count for as much as 50 percent of their evaluations.

The reasoning: The measures for teachers in subjects like social studies, the arts and world languages have long been one of the biggest challenges for developing a teacher evaluation process that looks at student achievement. Unlike in math and language arts, there is no standardized test used across any state that can fairly compare achievement levels.

Work in progress: The administration says it still wants to get the student performance piece up to 50 percent for all teachers, but understands the obstacles that have surfaced. “We realize there is a ways to go to identifying meaningful measures for them,” said Justin Barra, communications director of the state Department of Education.

Test data in progress: It’s not like the test data is ready yet, either, and the new guidance puts off the time that pilot districts will see the data for its math and language arts teachers until next fall. It tells districts to fill in all the other measures first to develop an “interim summative rating” for the end of this school year, before the final data can be plugged in for a final rating.

Other ways to test: For teachers not involved in the state tests, the guidance lays out a number of options for districts to assess students in these grades and subjects, including teachers developing standardized tests of their own or systems to measure progress through student work, essays or “portfolios.”

Some rules: Those measures would still need to determine if a student is proficient or not, and the tests themselves would have to have some administrative oversight and not be scored by teachers judging their own students’ work.

School-wide measures count: For both teachers in and outside tested subjects and grades, 5 to 10 percent of a teacher’s grade will be based on school-wide performance measures. It may be test scores overall or within specific student groups. It also can include rates for graduation, college-matriculation, attendance or a half-dozen others.

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