Evaluating Educators

Over the past school year I have been working with a dedicated group of professionals in the educational realm around the controversial topic of student improvement and its role in the educator evaluation system. This is not the forum for in-depth discussion about what, specifically, we did; interested parties are encouraged to visit https://egov.delaware.gov/pmc/ and scroll through the calendar in the Education, Office of the Secretary, Agency page to view our meeting agendas and minutes. However, I’d like to encourage my readers to consider making their voices heard around one particular piece of legislation that directly reflects the recommendations of the sub-committee.

House Bill 399 would put a number of our recommendations into law, which is exciting for me because we spent a great deal of time as a team working towards consensus on how to really keep the student achievement part focused on students, and on authentic methods of supporting and demonstrating student improvement in our classrooms and schools. In this post I’ll briefly describe the salient changes and how you can voice the impact these changes will have in YOUR world.

To avoid edu-speak, here are a few quick descriptions of some terms I’ll probably use. DPAS II is the name of the evaluation system we use in Delaware, and all teachers and specialists are evaluated under this system. There are 5 components to DPAS, one of which is the student improvement portion. This is called Component V, and it is the main area being changed through this legislation. Under DPAS, teachers and specialists receive at least one observation each year, resulting in a conversation with a credentialed observer and a form documenting the observation, conversation, and any recommendations or commendations that arose during the process. This form is called a Formative Feedback document, and on this document the teacher or specialist is assigned a performance level based on the evidence available during the time of observation and conversation. Performance levels exist in multiple criteria throughout each of the first four components and lead to an overall performance level in each component. At the end of at least every two years, the Formative Feedback documents are compiled and evidence collected around the two non-observable components (IV and V) for the purpose of a Summative Evaluation.

Currently, under Component V, teachers and specialists are divided into three groups based on discipline. Classroom teachers are generally grouped into two categories with specialists in the third. In each of those three categories, there are measures around which goals are set for demonstrating student improvement. All three sets of measures are designed to lend some type of standardization to Component V. The first two sets of measures are tests of some sort (for the most part; I fully admit I do not have every single assessment method for every single discipline and grade level memorized, but they can be found on the Department of Education’s website). The third set of measures are growth goals.

The proposed legislation, HB 399, seeks to simplify Component V, make it valuable to educators in and out of the classroom, focus it on the needs of the individual schools and students, and maintain a level of integrity in the system while also giving teachers and specialists a more active role in their evaluation process. Under this proposal, Component V will be broken into two parts for teachers and specialists alike. One half will involve some sort of uniform measure that the teacher or specialist would choose, and it will demonstrate student improvement as a result of the teacher or specialist performing regular job duties (i.e., teaching, speech therapy, counseling). This uniform measure will need to be approved by the administrator working with the teacher or specialist, but it could include such things as the Smarter Balanced Assessment, discipline-specific pre- and post-tests, authentic assessments such as portfolios, end-of-pathway certifications such as Auto Mechanic or Veterinary Technician, and industry-aligned measures for specialists with professional organizations. These measures will be available for any teacher or specialist to use statewide only after approval by the Department of Education through its current alternative measure submission and approval process.

The other half of Component V will be based on goal-setting between the administrator and the teacher or specialist. Every school, be it a traditional public school or a charter school, has some sort of vision and plan for moving that school and its students forward in their educational endeavors. Under this model, the teacher or specialist will identify a goal directly linked to that plan and, with administrator conversation and agreement, will set that goal to directly impact the success of students. For instance, if my school had a goal of improving attendance for a group of students, I would write a goal around mentoring some of those students, providing a safe space and caring adult to encourage the students, communicate with families, and find ties in the larger community to get those students to school and keep them there. If a teacher or specialist is considered novice or is receiving support for improvement through the evaluation system, the administrator will select that goal. If a teacher or specialist is considered experienced and satisfactory, the administrator and teacher/specialist will write the goal together, and in the event that agreement cannot be reached each will contribute one goal for this half of Component V.

There are other pieces of the legislation that are important to understand, but this is the main area where I feel voices need to be heard. I encourage you to please contact State Representatives and Senators with a message about how you could use this new Component V to really make a difference in your profession. Give a specific example, such as I have above. These legislators truly want to hear from teachers and specialists, and it is vital that we not miss this opportunity to speak while they are listening. At this link http://legis.delaware.gov/ you can find information about the bill as well as who the Representatives and Senators are; you do not need to contact just your legislator, but please consider making the connection!

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3 Responses to Evaluating Educators

  1. Amani Maas says:

    While I appreciate the hard work you are doing in this area, it bothers me that these conversations are happening around teacher evaluations. I’m glad that it looks like there will be many components to teacher evaluations that teachers and administrators can choose from, that is good. But as a teacher of special needs students, it is impossible to predict which areas my students will improve in specifically, and whether or not they will be measurable. Let me explain. I have a student who began the year randomly guessing at every math problem no matter what it was. He would simply write down numbers. By randomly guessing, this student got 4 questions correct on the pre-test. Go figure, right? Anyway, after an entire school year of encouraging him to “do the math thinking” he came to the place where he would actually attempt every math problem with the correct operation, however, his accuracy is terrible. In the post-test he attempted 23 problems. Of those problems, he randomly guessed at 7, meaning he did not do the correct operation or get the right answer. Of the 16 remaining, he did the correct operation but only got 4 correct. So, growth = 0%. But in actuality, he grew tremendously. So, while this year, I was considered an ineffective teacher, this student will probably begin being more accurate next year in his computation and next year’s teacher will be effective. I another example. I work with an autistic student. Last year, he had at least 1, or maybe more, inconsolable meltdowns every month. They were over things that we could not anticipate as teachers, such as his folder tearing, for example. This year, when I was working with him, he had 0 meltdowns for the entire year. He grew tremendously socially and emotionally where he could handle everyday situations. However, as I said, I was an ineffective teacher this year because my students didn’t progress enough. I didn’t anticipate that we would have success in his social/emotional coping skills so I didn’t include them in my Comp V. evaluation. These evaluations, no matter how you word them, are subjective. If your boss likes you, you get great scores and if your boss doesn’t, she shrugs your successes off as unimportant in the light of your negative test scores. It is simply unethical to evaluate a teacher on the basis of student test scores. Period.

    • jax2816 says:

      I completely agree with you and I suggested that exact proposal at one of the sub-committee’s early meetings. I’m not convinced we have the support in the state to pull that off, however. The educational climate is such that measuring student improvement is seen as the end goal, and there are many who can’t see past testing as the best way to do that. To be fair, it makes total sense. However, it has gone way too far and is applied in a one-size-fits-all manner that does not actually demonstrate how the kids are improving. The system forces impossibly high expectations and declares any educator whose students do not reach those goals ineffective as an educator. That implies a causality that simply does not exist.

      I sincerely appreciate your thoughtful comment and hope you share that sentiment with legislators!

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