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Fine Print: Teacher Evaluation Update

'Calibration' and 'inter-rater agreement' help keep DOE's pilot on target.

What it is: The state Department of Education is releasing every month an update on its teacher evaluation pilot, now including 10 districts and another 19 individual schools and expanding to another 30 districts next year. The latest update provides a useful run-down of the basics of the program -- including the tricky nomenclature of teacher evaluation -- and also highlights the work in one district in particular, this time, Alexandria Township.

Language matters: Educators have their own language, where they call tests "assessments" and teaching practice "pedagogy." Teacher evaluation is another layer on top of that, and the update provides a bit of a glossary on some of the basics on what is a "teaching practice framework" and "observation instrument."

Glossary for the glossary: Of course, some of the definitions need definitions, like that for the "observation instrument." It is "the specific teaching practice tool used to assess the observable competencies of teaching practice."

"Calibration:" A key term, it addresses how the evaluators themselves are monitored to make sure they are scoring teachers on a consistent and accurate basis.

"Inter-rater agreement:" Another important concept, it speaks to whether two evaluators of the same teacher come to the same conclusions about the teacher's performance. On its own, however, it is no guarantee of an accurate measure. "Observers can be wrong and agree with each other. Agreement alone does not assure accuracy of scoring -- just consistency. Therefore calibration is necessary to ensure accuracy."

Alexandria's progress: The Hunterdon County district is among the 10 that signed up to be pilots in the program, the collective laboratory for what works and what doesn't as the Christie administration seeks to go statewide in 2013-14. The update says the district has already made significant progress in beginning to link teachers' evaluations to their student performance, maybe the most controversial piece of the program. In Alexandria's case, it was work started prior to the pilot when it began to build common measurements in subjects and grades in which students are not tested by the state.

Superintendent quoted: "A sense of urgency around this work that is shared by a critical mass is needed, because the overall lack of feedback that teachers receive from traditional evaluation systems does them a disservice. Additionally, most current systems do not successfully differentiate levels of effectiveness among teachers." -- Mark Jennings, Alexandria superintendent.

Principal evaluation: The state is expanding the pilot next year to include principal evaluation. Districts are to apply for the principal evaluation pilot by the end of this month.

Pilot timeline: The update lays out the timeline for the pilot proceeding into the next year.

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