Fine Print: Teacher Evaluation Update

The administration eases some guidelines, two pilot districts weigh in with their experiences and progress

What it is: The periodic update sent to districts by the state Department of Education includes the latest developments in the state’s planned implementation of a statewide teacher evaluation system by next fall.

What’s new?: Sent this week, the updates includes revised timelines for districts to report their progress. They now have until February 15 to report their final decisions on evaluation instruments. It also includes some details on the Christie administration’s upcoming and low-awaited guidelines, as well as specific feedback from two districts involved in the evaluation pilot: Haddonfield and Rockaway.

Some flexibility to a strict deadline: The state’s new tenure law requires evaluation systems be in place for both teachers and principals for the 2013-2014 school year, but the administration has often said it wants to provide as much leeway as possible given the time constraints. In addition to the February 15 deadline for reporting — instead of the January 1 deadline in the law — it also sets some loose deadlines for the principal evaluation, saying that even training now doesn’t need to be completed until October 15 .

All about the regs: Central to how districts are to implement their own evaluation systems will be the administration’s regulations. The latest update said that code will be submitted to the state Board of Education on March 6, including how student performance is to be used in the evaluations, surely the effort’s most controversial piece. But the timing is tight on that, given the state board’s glacial approval process. The final vote is scheduled for September 4.

Public campaign: With the new proposal, the department has pledged to launch an outreach effort to get feedback from educators and the public. “Over the course of several weeks, we will conduct regional presentations, post a variety of resources on our website, and provide opportunities for educators and others to share questions and feedback,” wrote Peter Shulman, the assistant state commissioner overseeing the effort.

Student growth: The update also gives more description of the “student growth percentile” measure that will be attached to each student and in turn their teachers as part of the evaluation system. The department has begun to circulate those numbers for students and schools, and earlier this month did so for individual teachers in the first 11 pilot districts. Still, for all the attention this issue receives, the number of teachers affected are a small minority who have students taking the state’s NJASK tests in math and language arts. The update said if these measures were in place for last year, it would have encompassed 16,500 teachers — less than a fifth of the statewide teaching force.

Reports from the field: Each of the updates gives details from some of the pilot districts, and this one includes two districts doing distinctive work.

Haddonfield describes its progress in developing a single score or “summative rating” for teachers based on their evaluations and student progress. The work has involved a committee of educators and an algorithm using different weights and measures.

Rockaway is one of a handful of districts piloting both teacher and principal evaluations. The school’s superintendent, Deborah Grefe, said there has been a benefit in doing both at once: “By implementing teacher and principal evaluation frameworks at the same time, both groups have established significant camaraderie, which led to a positive culture around this initiative.”

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