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New teacher evaluations receive good marks

| Thursday, April 26, 2012, 1:10 a.m.

Administrators participating in the state's pilot program regarding a new teacher evaluation system praise the comprehensive review, but they worry future evaluations won't be a thorough when all teachers are included.

"They are much, much, much more time consuming," said Leechburg Area School District Superintendent Jim Budzilek. "The old observations and evaluations would take about two hours per teacher. With this new method, it could take three to four hours per teacher."

It requires a principal to meet with a teacher before and after a classroom observation to discuss what worked well or could be improved. The old review system required one classroom observation.

Leechburg Area, along with Allegheny Valley School District and the Allegheny and Westmoreland intermediate units, is among 77 districts participating in a pilot of the new evaluations. Nine career and technical education centers, nine charter schools and nine intermediate units also have signed on.

The evaluation doesn't count toward an official assessment this year unless the teacher wants it to.

Pat Dietrich, a reading specialist at Colfax Upper Elementary in Springdale, said one of the things she likes most about the new evaluations is the time the administrator spent with her.

"The people doing the observations look at these (criteria) and we talk about why I would put myself as 'proficient' or 'distinguished' on that particular component," she said. "They took detailed notes and had an opportunity to ask me, 'Why did you do what you did?' "

But the time-intensive evaluations are cause for concern in a small district like Leechburg Area, where Budzilek, who serves as principal for the district's three schools, and assistant principal Matt Kruluts would split 62 teacher evaluations, Budzilek said.

"It is a more extensive process and finding that time is tough," said Carla Claycomb, a director of education services for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest teachers union. "So there's a question about what the quality of feedback will be like once principals must review all teachers using the new system."

Same, but different

Under the new system, teachers still are evaluated in four areas: planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction and professionalism.

What's different is that teachers are rated as unsatisfactory, needs improvement, proficient or distinguished, and a rubric defines what performance in each category looks like.

The old review system rated teachers as satisfactory or unsatisfactory based on broad criteria such as "adequate knowledge of Pennsylvania's academic standards."

State Education Secretary Ron Tomalis blasted the old system because nearly every teacher and principal receives a satisfactory rating.

The National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonpartisan nonprofit partly funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, recently gave Pennsylvania's old teacher evaluation system an overall grade of D+.

Sara Martin, an English and language arts teacher at Springdale Junior-Senior High School, said she likes that the new evaluations are a collaboration between the teacher and the administrator doing the review.

"Instead of just assigning a score to me, we were able to discuss, before and after, the lesson he observed," she said.

Once the full rollout is complete, half of a teacher's evaluation would be based on multiple measures of student achievement, including achievement test scores, attendance, how much a student has improved academically during the year and projects.

That's a concern for teachers because that portion hasn't been discussed with them yet, said Claycomb.

"Teachers want to make sure that it accurately reflects student achievement and growth," she said. "They want to be sure that all ways they understand student growth is measured."

For example, she said, a child who enters kindergarten "as a biter" and leaves kindergarten not a biter is evidence of student growth.

"The child is much better set to enter first grade once they have developed pro-social behaviors," Claycomb said.

In December, Pennsylvania was awarded a $41.3 million federal grant to implement the new system in the 2012-13 school year, which is when a pilot program for principal evaluations will take place.

The state Education Department designed the evaluation system in 2009 with an $800,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Participation by the numbers

Teachers in two Alle-Kiski Valley school districts and two intermediate units volunteered to be part of a state pilot program regarding a new teacher evaluation system.

• 77 school districts

• 9 career and technical education centers

• 9 charter schools

• 9 intermediate units

• 366 buildings

• 659 principals and supervisors

• 2,368 teachers in subjects tested on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment

• 2,620 teachers in non-PSSA tested subjects

Source: State Department of Education

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