Dozens of School Districts Win Waivers for New Teacher Evaluations

John Mooney | May 30, 2014 | Education
Chief concern: how often must teachers be evaluated, and for how long

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In the first year of the new requirements that have roiled the state’s public schools, more than 70 districts have won waivers from the state for different aspects of the recently developed teacher evaluation system.

At NJ Spotlight’s request, the state Department of Education yesterday released the list of districts making the waiver requests and the general tenor of the applications. Virtually all won approval; those that didn’t on the first round were revised and accepted.

The list doesn’t provide much detail, but it did indicate that many districts were looking to relax rules that define a specific number of teacher observations or specific timelines.

“The Department wants districts to be successful in implementing the evaluation system,” said Peter Shulman, the assistant state commissioner overseeing the new requirements, said yesterday in an emailed statement.

“By reviewing, and often granting, flexibility requests on a district-by-district basis, the Department demonstrates that we’re willing to work with local school officials to implement a evaluation system that is best suited to their individual needs.”

Twenty-four districts — or more than a third of those requesting waivers — were concerned with the Marshall observation model that was approved by the state. The model, which was adopted by 32 districts overall last year, calls for more frequent, albeit shorter, observations for every teacher.

Shulman acknowledged that the Marshall model had drawn the most attention, but stressed the overall number of waiver requests remained a small minority.

“With only about one in 9 districts asking for a waiver, it . . . suggests that the vast majority of school districts find they can work within the existing set of regulations,” Shulman said in an emailed statement.

Close to 30 of the waiver requests were seeking some leeway on the number and nature of observations required for specifically tenured teachers.

Under the TEACHNJ law, every tenured teacher must be observed at least three times a year, but the state regulations stipulate the duration of each observation. Waiver requests can only address regulatory requirements, not statutory ones.

For instance, North Brunswick asked for and received a waiver to reduce the number of full observations for tenured teachers from three to two — only in the case of teachers who are deemed at least “effective.”

The lengthy application that asks for justification of the waiver and community input said that administrators spend roughly four hours in observations for each teacher.

“If approved, this proposed equivalent practice will help us to scaffold our implementation of the [evaluations], address current administrative capacity limitations, and ensure said observations are performed with fidelity,” the application read.