Voluntary program ties teacher evaluation to student gains

| Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011

Keystone Oaks School District Superintendent William Urbanek said he's willing to consider participating in the state's pilot of a new teacher evaluation system that, in part, bases effectiveness on student achievement.

But he said that he would have to have the teachers union input and that the system has to be fair for all teachers.

"If I'm a special education teacher, I'm looking for a certain amount of growth in my children, as is a gifted education teacher," Urbanek said. "So if some baseline can be developed ... to keep the playing field level for all teachers, then it could be a good idea."

The state Department of Education this month plans to ask school districts to volunteer to participate in the pilot program in fall. The goal is for at least 20 percent of the state's 747 public schools to participate.

State law prohibits student performance from being used to evaluate teachers, but Gov. Tom Corbett wants to change that as part of a broader effort to improve public education. The state's largest teachers union has suggested using an evaluation system that incorporates student achievement.

Tim Eller, spokesman for the Education Department, said some schools have committed to the pilot, but he didn't know which ones. State officials believe that school administrators and teachers will give the idea fair consideration, Eller said.

"I'm not saying they agree on the exact mechanics of how it's been proposed, but they agree it's something that needs to be worked at to come up with the best system," Eller said.

The department hopes to adopt a new evaluation system statewide in 2012-13.

A preliminary model consists of four components: classroom observations, student academic performance, teacher performance and other criteria that will be determined by school boards.

Student performance would account for half of a teacher's score. Eller said Pennsylvania System of School Assessment scores and data from the Pennsylvania Value-Added Assessment System, which measures whether a student made a year's worth of growth in reading and math, would be used.

PSSA scores already determine in part whether schools are meeting state standards under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Critics have blamed the emphasis on test scores for cheating scandals in Atlanta and Washington. Last month, the state Education Department ordered districts to investigate what it called irregularities in the 2009 PSSA results and report back to the department.

The current system, which uses a set of eight performance indicators, rated 99 percent of teachers as "satisfactory."

The state developed the system using an $800,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the same organization that gave Pittsburgh Public Schools $40 million to improve teacher effectiveness.

Pittsburgh implemented a new teacher evaluation system in all its schools last year with state approval. The system eventually will incorporate student achievement into evaluations.

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