Teachers Face New Evaluations

Article excerpt

Byline: Susan Palmer The Register-Guard

Some Eugene School District teachers will get a whole new level of scrutiny this year as the district rolls out a pilot project for evaluating them, using criteria that include student achievement.

The pilot project will be used in six schools and is Eugene's response to a 2011 law passed by the Legislature that calls for statewide standards in how teachers are assessed.

It's happening against a national backdrop of public scrutiny of teacher evaluations. In February, for example, New York City released rankings of all of its teachers based on their students' math and English test scores. And while the state has now passed a law limiting the public release of those rankings, student scores are a formal part of the way New York teachers are judged.

Oregon has specifically rejected using student test scores as the sole student measure on which to judge teachers, and has rejected the concept of public reporting of individual teacher data, according to core standards on assessing teachers that it published this summer.

The state Department of Education is leaving it to districts to negotiate with their teachers' unions the specifics of the evaluation process.

All Oregon districts must provide a description of their revised evaluations to the state by July 1, 2013. The state itself is under an obligation to include student achievement in teacher evaluations in order to maintain a waiver from federal No Child Left Behind rules. Districts can test out their proposals in pilot projects before implementing them, with a final deadline in 2014-15.

The Eugene district's timeline is well ahead of that. After this year's pilot project is evaluated and revised, the district plans to put it in place for the 2013-14 school year.

Up until now, teachers have been observed twice in the classroom each year by a principal who evaluates their performance against a checklist of state standards, said Celia Feres-Johnson, the district's human resources director. Principals look at such things as classroom management and student engagement, she said.

Teachers whose performance falls below an acceptable level are put on a plan designed to help them improve. That plan can last from 30 days to nine months, and teachers who fail to improve can face further sanctions including being fired, Feres-Johnson said.

Under the pilot evaluation system, that process remains in place, but the number of classroom observations increases, and the focus is on helping all teachers improve, not just the struggling ones, Feres-Johnson said.

New teachers, considered to be on probation for their first three years in the district, will be evaluated every year, while veteran teachers on contract with the district will be evaluated once every three years in a six-year cycle.

To evaluate either probationary or contract teachers, principals will visit their classrooms not just twice but four times a year.

In years when they aren't being evaluated, contract teachers will also set annual improvement goals.

Under the current system, teachers set one goal per year. The pilot program requires two, with one goal focused on student performance and growth, and one goal focused on improving teacher effectiveness.

Teachers are also encouraged to work with mentor teachers, according to the district's plan, which is posted online.

"It's allowing the teacher to be an active participant in their own growth," Feres-Johnson said.

No easy way to evaluate

Because of the complexities involved in classroom instruction, teachers will be judged across a range of skills, said Jon Saphier, a teaching consultant who worked with the district to come up with the pilot plan and will continue to help refine it in the coming year.

"Classroom teaching is the most complex human endeavor there is," Saphier told the Eugene School Board at a work session recently. …