Opinion Is Divided On New Teacher Evaluation Program

April 9, 2012

How can virtually 100 percent of PA educators be evaluated as satisfactory, yet, based on statewide assessments, one-in-four students are scoring below proficient in reading and one-in-three are scoring below proficient in math? It just does not add up.

More educational criticism from The Silent Majority?? Nope, a quote from PA Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis, September 21, 2011.

Basically, the so-called evaluations of our teachers, principals, and superintendents, have been a sham. That shouldn't surprise anyone who has ever dealt with a burned-out, or haughty, or incompetent, or disinterested educator at any level (or read this column over the years). The only surprise here is that it took the PA Department of Education so long to do anything about it. That is a by-product of living in a state where the teachers unions are the 400 pound gorillas watching the henhouse.

The good news is that PA is finally taking action. Of course, it didn't hurt that the federal government is about to impose tougher education accountability standards. We are one of many states adopting Common Core standards for curriculum, testing and assessment, which is intended to standardize public education procedures and substance throughout the country.

The better news is that QCSD is being part of the solution, after long being part of the problem.

Two years ago, PDE began developing a teacher and principal evaluation pilot program with an $800,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. With guidance from a steering committee comprised of representatives from education, business, and research, the first round of the pilot program took place during the 2010-11 academic year.

Schools throughout the state were so pleased with the program that 104 of them, even including some career and technical centers, charter schools, and intermediate units, signed-up to participate in the second round, which began in January, 2012. Among that group is QCSD.

The purpose of the program, according to PDE, is to "recognize that outstanding teaching is taking place in countless classrooms across Pennsylvania and to identify those individuals who may need additional professional development". Pennsylvania's current evaluation method for teachers and principals is comprised solely of classroom observations, and, amazingly, does not factor in student achievement. It also only categorizes an educator as "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory" and does not adequately assess a teacher's instructional method.

According to PDE, "The limitations of the assessment have led to the misrepresentation of the effectiveness of educators in Pennsylvania. Based on statewide reports of teacher and principal evaluations, conducted during the 2009-10 school year, 99.4 percent of all teachers and 99.2 percent of all principals received a satisfactory rating. The results of the collected data on teacher effectiveness only further justify the need for a new evaluation process. When there is such a drastic disparity between the quality of educators and the achievement of the students, there is a serious problem."

Under the new system, 50 percent of an educator's evaluation would be comprised of multiple measures of student achievement. The remaining portion, classified as traditional practices, would include areas such as classroom observations and student interviews.

"Students, parents and taxpayers deserve an educational system in which educators and school leaders are held accountable for the work being done in the classroom. In turn, the new evaluation system will ensure educators are provided with an objective and consistent evaluation that provides meaningful feedback," Tomalis said.

At the conclusion of the second pilot program, PDE will review the results, and suggestions, from both years. Any necessary changes will be made, and a final evaluation system will be created and implemented in all PA public schools in the 2012-13 school year. Findings from the pilot programs involving individual teachers will not be part of their official records.

QCSD is, literally, "all in" with the current pilot program, which, they hope will get the district ahead of the learning curve when the system becomes mandatory. There are about 1200 teachers currently involved throughout the state. Unlike other districts that only put a few teachers into the pilot program, QCSD was bold and put all the teachers in. We have as many people in the pilot program as the rest of the state combined. Superintendent Lisa Andrejko told the school board "A teacher not cutting it is not acceptable to us."

But not everyone in the district agrees with Andrejko's simplistic pronouncement. Board member Mitch Anderson, a former president of the QCSD teachers union, sees the program as a convenient way of laying all blame on the teachers, and absolving the administration and students of any responsibilities.

"I think the devil will be in the details. I suspect it will be labor intensive and result in little improvement. Most of it is done by the teachers themselves, and it will take hours, but it codifies the idea that the teachers alone are responsible for student learning, not students. It does not matter how well one is teaching. If one has grades too low, and says the kids do not study, or ask questions, or seek help, then that teacher is considered deficient because he did not do enough to ensure the students' success. That is why the kids all pass, but know so little. The idea is to give good grades. That way everyone is happy; the parent, the child, the principal; and the teacher has survived. Schooling will never improve if administrators say it is all on the teacher."

Andrejko also acknowledges that there have been no discussions of how these new evaluations might be used to determine compensation. School director Paul Stepanoff, a long-time advocate for basing teacher pay on the same merit system as private industry, is on the QCSD committee gathering information on how that concept could be applied here.

"The problem is, of course, how you tie in teacher evaluations with compensation. In the current system there is no connection between the two, except if you are rated in the lowest rank, which then puts you under a microscope. But the difference between good, proficient, and outstanding has absolutely no bearing on compensation. Only now is public education excited about doing things that the private sector implemented decades ago. If we can tie it all together, we will be ahead of everyone else in the state."