As the Christie administration expands and extends its pilot program for developing a statewide teacher evaluation system, it is also fine-tuning requirements for districts and adding some flexibility on how teachers are graded.
The state Department of Education yesterday put out its requests for proposals to join the pilot, expanding from 10 districts this year to up to 30 next year.
The intention of the pilot is to help develop a statewide system that can be implemented in 2013-2014, officials said. The state had initially planned for the pilot just this year, but announced this winter it would extend it another year.
But the next phase appears to have some key distinctions from the first year, including more leeway in how -- and how much -- student performance will play into a teacher’s evaluation, a contentious piece of the whole project.
For example, the state will not require that student performance be up to 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation if he or she teaches in a subject or a grade that does not go through state testing. In those cases, student performance can be less than half the grade, using locally developed assessments. Teachers in non-tested subjects and grade make up the majority of all teachers.
But the state is also adding some requirements for the next group of pilot districts, including the use of unannounced observations of teachers in the classroom. Often, teachers are given advanced notice of a formal observation, including a conference beforehand.
The state will also require additional observations for teachers in core subjects of language arts, math, science, and social studies. And it wants to add evaluators from outside the school as well, something some district advocates have resisted.
The new pilot districts will be chosen through a competitive application process, with the applications due on April 26, officials said. Notified in June, the winning districts will receive money from the state to help launch the new system and train teachers. The state is providing $2.4 million overall for the second year of the pilot.
Districts now in the pilot, as well as another 19 low-performing schools that were required to participate as a condition of federal turnaround money, will also have the option to remain in the program.
“We owe it to our educators to get this right, and we are confident that after monitoring progress in our pilot districts over multiple years, we will have a statewide system in 2013-14 that provides more meaningful support to every New Jersey teacher,” said acting education commissioner Chris Cerf in the announcement.
Coming late yesterday, the announcement also elaborated on the department’s requirements for the balance of districts not in the pilot but needing to prepare for the advent of a statewide system, still scheduled for 2013-14.
Among a menu of options, every district will need to pick an evaluation model that it wants to use and begin training teachers.
The state’s announcement also included a report on the administration’s findings from the first year of the pilot.
By and large, districts have said the attention to teacher evaluation has been positive, although they express some fears about the capacity of administers to meet the state’s demands and use of student test scores in evaluating teachers. The state’s findings were along similar lines, although playing down the testing fears.
“Most significantly, we have heard from pilot educators and administrators that they are having more meaningful and constructive conversations about their practice than ever before,” said assistant commissioner Peter Shulman in a memo to districts laying out the requirements and updating them on the pilot.
Shulman highlighted the work in Pemberton Township, one of the pilot districts. It created a system for training teachers to the evaluation model, greater communication with staff and community, and even student surveys about their teachers.
“The surveys measure students’ perception of the seven facets of the classroom environment: Care, Control, Clarify, Challenge, Captivate, Confer, and Consolidate,” Shulman said. “The surveys will be distributed to all students in grades 3-12 in early June.”
In the memo, Shulman also repeated an earlier vow from Cerf that the state would not release individual teacher's scores, a concern raised last month with the online posting of teacher evaluations in New York City.
“Please note that we are opposed to the release of evaluation data linked to specific teachers as part of a larger evaluation,” Shulman wrote. “We are currently pursuing a number of avenues to ensure that teacher confidentiality is protected at the state level and will provide guidance to help protect teacher confidentiality at the district level.”