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NJ Schools Prepare to Implement New Teacher Evaluations

With teacher’s tenure now tied to the evaluations, state sets deadlines for districts to decide on the process and performance models.

Peter Shulman,the NJ assistant education commissioner overseeing teacher evaluations.

New Jersey’s plans for having a statewide teacher evaluation system in place by 2013-2014 goes full throttle this year, with every school district in the state being required to start putting the key pieces in place.

Much of the attention has been on the more than two dozen districts that have signed on to be pilots of the new program, 11 last year and another 10 this year. An additional 14 districts are also piloting a new principal evaluation system.

But the balance of the state’s nearly 600 districts are hardly off the hook, as the state has begun rolling out timelines and regulations that they will need to follow in preparation for having the statewide system ready by next year.

It will start with every district and school putting together the teams of administrators and teachers who will decide on the process for their districts, as well as the choice of the eventual evaluation models to be used to judge their teachers’ performances.

Thirteen models -- from nationally-known ones to local district versions -- have so far been chosen by the state as options for districts to choose from, with the state opening up another two rounds of proposals in the coming months. The pilots in the meantime are testing out a variety of models themselves.

In the end, the program and how it plays out in each district will be the linchpin to the Christie administration’s and the Legislature’s push to bring more accountability to teacher performance, including the ultimate use of student achievement as one of the factors in a teacher’s or principal’s evaluation.

Under new tenure reform legislation signed in August, a teacher’s tenure protections will hinge on how they fare in the evaluations.

State officials yesterday said they are seeing a range of reactions so far to the early rollout of the rules, but certainly a steady commitment by every district’s to be well prepared.

‘We are seeing a mix of emotions about it,” said Peter Shulman, the assistant education commissioner overseeing the effort. “But I must say the signing of [the new tenure law] has grabbed the attention of folks who might not have before.”

Added Timothy Matheny, the state’s new director of educator evaluation and former principal of South Brunswick high school: “Any time there is a sea change, there will be some anxiety involved, but those who really care about improvements in the system, they see the value in this.”

Shulman stressed that many districts have been well along with this process, with strong evaluations systems in place and some starting to form their own panels. But there are still a number of steps that may be new, including having teachers serve on school panels that will oversee the evaluation process

“This is not a new concept, it’s been around for decades,” he said. “But depending on where you are, the starting line is different.”

As laid out in new regulations being proposed before the State Board of Education and distributed to districts this week, the key deadlines for each district are:

  • Form a District Evaluation Advisory Committee by Oct. 31.

  • Adopt educator evaluation models for teachers and principals by Dec. 31

  • Begin to test and refine evaluation models by Jan. 31, 2013.

  • Form a School Improvement Panel to oversee evaluation activities by Feb. 1, 2013.

  • Train all teachers by July 1, 2013.

  • Train evaluators by Aug. 31, 2013.

With the school year just under way, districts are starting to move on the edicts, including getting acclimated with the various models that will be required.

The New Jersey Education Association, the teachers union, and the state’s Principals and Supervisors Association are hosting a forum next week where some of the major evaluation models will present their plans. More than 200 teachers and administrators have signed up to listen, organizers said.

“We’ve been talking about this for more than a year, but it's now becoming real to people,” said Debra Bradley, director of government relations for the principals group.

State officials said they remained on track to have the system ready for every district by the start of the 2013-2014 school year, as required under the new legislation. But Shulman especially has repeatedly said that he wants to hear districts’ feedbacks and concerns in the lead up to the launch.

“We are well positioned,” Shulman said yesterday. “But we know we have our work cut out for us.”

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