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New JSD evaluation system may not give enough weight to student success

Posted: May 12, 2011 - 9:37pm

The Juneau School District may move to a new teacher evaluation system that looks deep into teacher conduct and effectiveness in a seven-domain, 40-point rubric.

Patti Carlson, human resources director, and Sara Hannan, a Juneau-Douglas High School teacher on the committee involved in developing the packet, presented the evaluation to the school board on Thursday.

The district currently uses a four-page evaluation form and outline of expectations. The new process features a 90-page document that promotes quality teachers and continued professional development.

The evaluation looks at seven core “domains” or standards, and nearly 40 sections between those categories.

There also is a nine-step process for a teacher undergoing an evaluation, beginning with teacher training and ending with parent, administrator, student evaluations of the teacher.

The process also gives clear strategies for teachers not meeting basic requirements and an improvement process. It also has an enticement for teachers going above and beyond ­— only being evaluated every other year, with three options for professional development. All school staff will be evaluated by the school principal.

Carlson said one of the goals was to provide for more dialogue between the principal and the teachers, for a more active and engaged evaluation process.

Currently, staff is evaluated on a scale that is relatively unclear.

Assistant Superintendent Laury Scandling said she’s used the continuum-style evaluation for nine years, and was also subjected of it. She said one other problem with it that she’s personally been affected by is a “cut and paste” evaluation, where an administrator simply copied and pasted the prior year’s evaluation onto the current one. She said that was likely due to a lack of time available. Hannan said that there isn’t really historical data or forward movement in those evaluations. Hannan said the new system will give teachers a very clear picture of where they’re at in specific areas.

Board members wondered how this process would decrease time spent in evaluations.

Hannan said the goal is to get all of the tenured teachers into proficient status, which would put them in the category of teachers who don’t have to be evaluated each year. If a teacher doesn’t need to be evaluated every year, it would mean less work for reviewers while still achieving the same quality measures.

Board member Mark Choate was concerned that there wasn’t enough focus on student achievement measures in grading teachers.

He said that there is only one category in the rubric that scores a teacher on how well their students did. He said many of the evaluation points were on behavioral observations.

“You’ve got one, ‘do they respond to emails?’ That’s important from organizational standpoint, but most important is ‘does the student improve in achievement?’”

Hannan said part of the problem with giving a significant portion of teacher evaluations to student achievement is not every subject is part of the district’s significant testing measures. Hannan, who teaches social studies, pointed out history is not part of MAPS or any other state testing. Should she get a high score based on final grades she gives, over a math teacher being scored on where students rank on higher stakes testing?

Choate said he was frustrated with that argument because the district has so much comprehensive data and the argument is always faulting the data. He said administrators, district and teachers should be held to the same data students are.

Board member Barbara Thurston agreed with Choate to a point.

“I hesitate to give test data too much weight,” she said. “There is a certain component of testing that is outside the teachers’ control. On the other hand, there’s something like 40 of these little subdomains and only one of those specifically deals with teachers learning. I think it’s (worth) more than one-fortieth. It just needs a little bit more weight than that.”

Board member Kim Poole said she did not share the same concerns as Thurston and Choate, having been someone with human resources experience. She said this rubric pinpoints and charts where a teacher is and gives clear guidance of where improvement is needed.

Thurston also honed in on a gap in the evaluations. Only teachers who don’t meet a majority of the basic requirements have a plan for improvement. Teachers who perform at a high level are also addressed. Those in the middle have nothing.

She said if a teacher is essentially graded at a performance level of a ‘C’, there should be a plan in place to guide them to the ‘A’ level.

Carlson said there is a trick to that, because by law they can only have performance improvement plans with staff who do not meet requirements. She said the committee had talked about including a measure, but eventually dropped it along the two years of development. Carlson said what they can do is have growth plans for all levels, but they can’t specifically be plans for improvement.

Student Bridger Vance spoke in favor of changes to the evaluation system. He said teachers hand out their evaluation during class, and it takes students about 30 seconds to fill them out. Vance said students don’t take them seriously and simply score teachers on a scale based upon standard questions.

The board will take up the matter for action at its June meeting.

The evaluation packet can be found at http://bit.ly/jI3IjZ.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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