From Pilot Teacher Evaluation Systems, Words of Encouragement, Warning

John Mooney | March 18, 2013 | Education
At recent forum, educators share experiences, insights about new teacher evaluation systems

With every New Jersey school district tasked with having a new teacher evaluation system in place by next fall, the experiences of the handful of districts that have been testing the tools for the past two years are in high demand.

The New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association on Friday hosted a panel of school leaders and officials from some of the 30 pilot districts, asking them to share stories from the front.

Among the questions asked and answered: How did the district handle all the classroom observations stipulated for every teacher? Is there enough time in the day for the administrators? What about teachers building their own objectives to be measured by? And what is their reaction to “student growth percentiles” (SGP), a new yardstick based on state test scores?

The following are excerpts from the hour-long forum, held at NJPSA’s headquarters in Monroe.

Michael McGovern, Principal Catherine A. Dwyer School, Rockaway

“Your time as an administrator will be greatly affected. There is time in the classroom and time out of the classroom where you are doing work you haven’t done before. There are quality-of-life issues with this, I want to be totally honest with you.”

“But we are moving forward. I was absolutely floored by what our teachers could come up with [for their objectives]. Our teachers are really talking instruction, they are really looking at the data, and I think that will really fine-tune our building and take it to the next level. We were having these discussions before, but they have moved to a deeper and more intense level.”

Deborah Grefe, Superintendent, Rockaway

“Another positive is it brought us all together, as we are in this together. You will hear I don’t have enough time, there is no time, but you seem to make the time and that is what it boils down to. It is good for kids, it is good teaching, and it will raise the bar. Regardless of whether you are a phys-ed teacher, art teacher, a 4th grade teacher or a 2nd grade teacher, you are all there to raise the achievement.

“It’s nothing really new. As a teacher, you want the kids to grow, except this time we will show you the growth you’re doing. We have seen the SGP for the last three years, and it is really not a mystery. It’s really strong data, something we have not had before. It is so much more energizing to be able to share how much a child has grown and not just whether proficient.”

Robert Goodall, Principal, Monroe High School, Monroe

“With the amount of observations that you have to do as a high school principal, I just don’t have the administrative support, in terms of the number of administrators. We consistently over the last number of years have lost administrators to do the evaluations, so that is a big negative.

“The positive is I make that time to work with teachers. Those conversation with especially new teachers has been a very good experience. It has made me make the time to work with teachers, but in truth it has also caused me to not have the personal touch I used to have in working with some of the students and parents. I just haven’t been able to gain that same access, because of how hectic my day is.”

Timothy Matheney, Director of Evaluation, NJ DOE

“The requirements in our pilot districts are considerably higher than what we have proposed in our regulations [for districts going forward]. Our regulations afford much more flexibility to you, in that observations need to be a minimum 40 minutes for a long observation and 20 for short ones. We arrived at that 20 minutes because consistent research said that what you learn beyond 20 minutes in an observation is not significantly different than what you learn in the first 20 minutes.

“We know that the more times an administrator is in the classroom, the better teacher performance is.

“The layoffs during the recession really impacted supervisors greatly. I think we in the department have the responsibility to get the word out that supervisors are critical ingredients for this to succeed.”

Pam Kelly, Principal, Harker-Wylie/Isaiah Haines School, Pemberton Township

“Being an elementary school principal, you celebrate the first 100 days of school, it’s a big deal. I looked at my calendar, and I saw that in those 100 days I had been pulled from my building 20 full days. That was to do six days of evaluations in other buildings, there was all the training around it, and also the training on other initiatives. I thought if I was a teacher absent 20 days, I’d probably be writing myself up.

“It has created a culture change. In our other model, you were basically effective or not effective, and now we do have the four-point scale. We had to teach the teachers that you can be proud to be ‘effective,’ that’s a good thing. It’s hard to be ‘highly effective,’ and not everyone is going to walk away that way. But they are now having the professional conversations to how they move from one level to the next.

Kristin O’Neill, Curriculum & Instruction Director, West Deptford School District

“One thing we learned is there better be a building fire or something if you are ever going to cancel an observation.

“I have the SGP of my teachers, we got them as a pilot, and were able to sit down with our teachers and talk about them. I have to tell you, if you are already looking at your building and growth, and know your at-risk, and high-growth and low-growth [students], there really weren’t too many surprises, at least not in my district. But the conversation from the SGPs, that’s the conversation that is happening in my building.

“It’s time. It’s money. It’s summer time. I’m creating webinars, my teachers are getting tired of my voice, my teachers want it to stop. But you are trying to figure out creative ways to do it, and empowering teacher leaders. We can argue about all the red tape, but it’s what you are doing because it is good practice.”