Teacher Ratings Unrealistic, State Education Secretary Says

Article excerpt

Pennsylvania's education secretary on Wednesday called for changes in a system of rating public school teachers and principals, saying results showing that 99 percent are "satisfactory" suggest they do not sufficiently reflect what goes on inside classrooms.

Secretary Ron Tomalis said the existing system makes it very difficult to rank an educator as unsatisfactory. The scores were reported by the state's 747 "local education agencies," which are school districts, intermediate units, career and technical centers, and charter schools.

"Each year, Pennsylvania taxpayers invest $700 million in educator professional development," Tomalis said. "Students, parents and taxpayers deserve more accountability from those teaching in and operating our public schools, especially when the focus is preparing our children for the future."

Many districts evaluate their teachers in the way Tomalis is suggesting, said Linda Hippert, executive director of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, which provides instructional support for suburban districts.

"I see where the secretary can draw this conclusion," said Hippert, a former superintendent, "but at least in some districts, the evaluation system ... includes much more detail."

Teachers receive more feedback on their performance even if it doesn't affect their job status or salary.

Mt. Lebanon School District, for example, uses a state-approved system that breaks the satisfactory rating down into three levels, from lowest to highest: basic, proficient and satisfactory. Other districts, charter schools and intermediate units also evaluate teachers in more detail but fill out the state's shorter standard form when reporting results, Hippert said.

"We use a system that (rates teachers as) outstanding, excellent and needs improvement, which would all fall under satisfactory," Hippert said of the AIU's teachers and those in the Duquesne School District, which it manages. "So when we report the data to the state it looks like most of the teachers are satisfactory even if they might be on an improvement plan."

The president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, said the people who do the ratings -- usually school principals -- need more time and skills to perform more accurate evaluations.

He noted that many teachers facing unsatisfactory evaluations resign rather than go through dismissal procedures, which is one reason the positive rankings are so pervasive. …