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Teacher Evaluation

Massachusetts Teachers Association Spearheads

A New Teacher Evaluation System
by Laura Barrett, Massachusetts Teachers Association, and John Rosales              

As more states and school districts grapple with improving educator evaluation systems, many still rely too heavily on student test scores to evaluate teachers and administrators while ignoring practitioners’ input.

“The momentum to reform evaluation systems is growing, and educators need to be key players in these discussions and decisions,” says National Education Association (NEA) President Dennis Van Roekel.

In the last two years, more than 20 states have adopted legislation to revise their educator evaluation systems, and districts in every state have implemented evaluation reforms.

While policymakers in some states cling to outdated practices, others have consulted NEA affiliates to develop comprehensive evaluation systems based on multiple measures of student achievement, classroom observations, and other indicators.

Affiliates in New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and other states are leading the way in the adoption of systems to enhance instruction.

The Massachusetts Model

Teachers Chris Fontaine (left) and Lorie Banks confer on math instruction at Morgan Elementary School in Holyoke, MA.  

The Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) drafted recommendations in “Reinventing Educator Evaluation” as part of a collaborative effort involving state education officials and other education, parent, and business groups that developed their state’s new system. The system promises changes while retaining educator rights under state law to bargain over standards of productivity, evaluation processes, and procedures. New practices are being developed side by side with new contract language.

Standards in the new system are adapted from the core propositions of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the Interstate New Teachers Assessment and Support Consortium Standards.

“If properly implemented, the new system will lead to better evaluations and improved teaching, learning, and leadership in our schools,” says MTA President Paul Toner. “School committees and local associations are going to have to work out the details in bargaining to make sure they are workable, fair, and effective.”

In accordance with state regulations, the state’s 34 Level 4 schools were required by the state to begin using most elements of the educator evaluation framework in 2011 – 2012. This includes completing a self-assessment, developing individual or team practice and student learning goals, and collecting evidence to support ratings of practice. Formal observations are replaced or supplemented by more frequent unannounced visits.

All 232 Race to the Top districts must implement the new system in the 2012 – 2013 school year. The following year every district in Massachusetts will have to implement it, incorporating multiple measures of student growth. All licensed educators, teachers and administrators alike, are covered by the new requirements.

Of concern to all involved: speedy program deadlines might cause required local changes to be implemented before the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has developed guidance.

MTA Showing the Way

MTA’s Center for Education Policy and Practice—a DESE-approved vendor—was hired by Holyoke Public Schools to help implement the new evaluation system in the district’s two Level 4 schools: Morgan Elementary School and Dean Vocational Technical High School.

Morgan is located in a high-poverty area near several abandoned warehouses. Almost 100 percent of Morgan students are low-income and nearly half (43 percent) have limited English proficiency. Nine out of 10 are Hispanic, and the transiency rate is high.

Jim Sullivan, acting president of the Holyoke Education Association, estimates that about 10 percent of students fail to meet the district’s attendance requirement—not missing more than 18 school days. Determining whether to include student achievement data for high-truancy students will be one of the thorny issues  to be negotiated. “We can’t teach them if they’re not here,” says Sullivan.

Lorie Banks, an eighth-grade math teacher at Morgan who has taught for 19 years, does not object to being held accountable for student growth scores. “I stand by my work,” she says.

Tim Collins (pictured left), president of the neighboring Springfield Education Association (SEA), says that implementing the system in all schools in his district is challenging and will take time.

“My concern as this thing rolls out is that if we don’t take the time to readjust and do it right, it could seriously hinder the new instrument’s effectiveness,” Collins says.

In Springfield, SEA and district officials have agreed to sunset contractual changes implemented this year in their 10 Level 4 schools  to reassess what works and what doesn’t as the new system is rolled out.

If necessary, Toner says that MTA will press DESE to make reasonable adjustments in the implementation schedule.

“The point is not to create a ‘gotcha’ system, but a ‘growth’ system, a new way of looking at staff development that gives teachers and administrators feedback they need to do their jobs better,” he says. “These changes must be done thoughtfully to be effective.”

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