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Fine Print: “Student Growth Objective” Process Anything But Simple

State education officials offer examples of how goals fit into revamped teacher evaluations

Teacher-evaluation matrix based on success in reaching Student Growth Objectives.

What it is: State Department of Education staff on Wednesday presented the State Board of Education with an outline and examples of how the process works for setting “student growth objectives,” which are agreed-upon measures that every teacher must use as part of their annual evaluations.

What it means: The SGOs are big stuff in schools under the state’s new teacher-tenure law and its revamped evaluation system, with SGO accounting for 20 percent of all teachers’ evaluations. That’s more than the much-debated assessment measure centered on student test performance.

The presentation showed that the use of SGOs is no simple process, with multiple steps and requirements.

Appeals process: The complexity of the process is reflected in the recent decision by the recent Christie administration, under pressure from reform advocates, to set up an appeals process for teachers who feel they were unfairly evaluated through the SGO.

The idea: The SGO process allows teachers to set individual goals for themselves that aren’t reflected in state test scores. The presentation gave a few examples, such as a “portfolio” assessment of student writing over the course of the school year or a computer science teacher pursuing a special project in which each student will build a computer application.

The deadlines: The SGO process is a year-long one, beginning with determining starting points for every student in the opening weeks of the school year. There is an Oct. 31 deadline for teachers and supervisors to work together to set the SGOs, a mid-year window for adjustments, and then an end-of-year determination of whether the SGO goals were met.

Mr. Newton, physics teacher: The presentation featured the fictional Isaac Newton, a physics teacher at Einstein Academy. His SGO ended up being to set goals for all of his students to make commensurate progress on an in-class physics test near the end of the year. It meant dividing his class into different groups, depending on their “preparedness” based on their prior year math grade, and setting individual goals for each group to achieve on the exam.

How Newton fared: In the hypothetical example, Sir Isaac’s students varied in how successful they were in helping him reach those SGO goals.

The weakest group going in saw 85 percent of its members hit the target, while the stronger groups saw 75 percent. Ultimately Newton received an evaluation rating of 3.56 out of 4, well on his way to being deemed an ”effective,” if not “highly effective,” teacher in New Jersey’s ratings nomenclature.

New way of thinking: State officials tried to stress that the process is akin to the goal-setting that teachers and supervisors are supposed to do anyway.

“A lot of teachers have been doing this for years, but now they’re quantifying it and putting it on paper,” said Mark Biedron, the state board’s president. “That can be a little scary.”

Appeals fallback: Many of the complaints in the first full year of SGOs have been about the role that teachers play in setting their goals. One board member said she had heard reports of districts unilaterally setting the goals for teachers.

The new appeals process that is part of proposed regulations before the board would set up a process that allows teachers to contest their SGO ratings, first through the district and then to the state.

Small number: The appeals would only be for teachers who received unsatisfactory overall ratings in which the SGO score was a determining factor. And the process would only apply to the 2013-14 school year that just passed.

“We estimate it will number in the low one hundreds,” said Peter Shulman, an assistant commissioner. “We will take them on a case-by-case basis.”

“The last thing we want is a teacher’s status affected by a district that doesn’t want to carry this out appropriately,” he said.

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