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Aiming High

Truly comprehensive teacher evaluations are
a challenge in the Common Core era.

New York's 2012 teacher of the year, Kathleen Ferguson, is not happy with the state's new teacher evaluation system. The widely lauded second-grade teacher, who recently received an "effective" instead of a "highly effective" rating, told a Senate hearing in November that the current evaluation system, which includes student test scores on Common Core State Standards-aligned tests, puts undue pressure on students and unfairly penalizes students and teachers for not yet reaching goals they've just begun working toward.

Ferguson's concerns are shared by educators and administrators around the country who are trying to figure out how to assess teachers still learning to teach the new standards. By federal law, states are supposed to have new teacher evaluation systems in place by 2015-16. Many states have taken up the Department of Education's offer to extend the deadline to the 2016-17 school year, but the key question—how to effectively assess educators who are attempting to teach brand-new standards—remains.

Here's how some states and school districts are handling that very complicated question.

Wisconsin: State Guidance
The Wisconsin Educator Effectiveness System uses The Danielson Group's 2013 Framework for Teaching for ­teacher evaluations. Fifty percent of a teacher's score is practice-based and considers such things as how much work a teacher has done toward attaining her professional practice goals. The remaining 50 percent is student outcomes. Currently, the 50 percent student outcomes portion of a teacher's score is based on student progress toward learning objectives (45 percent), graduation rates (for schools that graduate students) or school-wide reading scores (2.5 percent), and a "district choice" measure (2.5 percent).

In the future, student achievement on Common Core-aligned assessments will be factored into teachers' student outcomes scores. The proportion of a teacher's score derived from progress toward student learning objectives will decrease to 22.5 percent. Another 22.5 percent will be based on students' CCSS-aligned assessment scores for teachers in tested grades and subjects. The other five percent will still be based on graduation rates or school-wide reading scores and a district choice measure.

"If you're teaching a tested/graded subject, 22.5 percent of your score will be value-added data from the Smarter Balanced assessment," says Katharine Rainey, director of educator effectiveness for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. "However, that won't be implemented for at least three years, because we're building new data collection processes to accurately attribute students to teachers while also switching to the new tests.

"The state is facing some interesting challenges. "We're finding it very, very hard to operationalize the incorporation of some of these things in a way that won't increase the perception of this as a system that isn't fair," Rainey says. "So even though some of these things, statistically, may not impact a teacher's score at all, if a teacher doesn't feel it's fair, that's going to have a huge negative impact on implementation. We're looking at those pieces to determine how we can change them, but right now it's codified as state law."

At this point, no high stakes are tied to teacher evaluations at the state level. "If there are any high stakes, they're attached locally," Rainey says. "We're providing some guidance regarding things districts should think through before doing that." Different districts define "pay for performance" differently, with some using evaluation results to place high performers in positions of increased responsibility (with commensurate pay increases) and other districts simply linking pay to evaluation scores.

"We want to very clearly communicate what districts should consider prior to making those decisions, emphasizing that they should consider those things in collaboration with their legal counsel, because some of those decisions, recognizing that the system is still in development, may have legal liabilities," Rainey says.

Denver's LEAP
The largest school district in Colorado, Denver Public Schools, now uses a teacher evaluation system called Leading Effective Academic Practice.

A teacher's LEAP score has two halves. The first half—which comprises 50 percent of a teacher's LEAP score—considers professional practices. Thirty percent of that number is derived from classroom observations, 10 percent is a measure of professionalism based on a rubric, and 10 percent comes from a student perception survey.

The other 50 percent of a teacher's LEAP score is student outcomes. "For this year, we're rolling out two of what will eventually be three measures," says Karen Herbert, senior manager of student outcomes at Denver Public Schools. The first is what Colorado is calling "an individual ­teacher measure on the state assessment." Teachers will receive a score based on their students' achievement on state assessments. At present, the state is using the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program, so student achievement on this assessment will make up 30 percent of the student outcomes portion of a teacher's LEAP score. Next year, Colorado will begin using the PARCC assessment to measure student achievement in language arts and math, and student performance on PARCC will be used instead.

The other 20 percent of a teacher's student outcomes score will be based on overall school performance, with teachers receiving a score based on overall student growth in the school (as measured by assessments).

Beginning in 2014-15, a third factor, student learning objectives, will be added to the student outcomes portion of a teacher's LEAP score. These learning objectives will be developed collaboratively by teachers and evaluators, and will be definite, measurable goals that detail exactly what educators want students to achieve during that academic year. The student learning objectives will be another way to measure student growth toward mastery of the Common Core State Standards (as well as teachers' effectiveness in helping students master those goals).

Adding SLOs will necessitate a change in the weighting of the various factors that comprise a teacher's student outcomes score. At this point, no one knows exactly how the three factors will be weighted.

Denver Public Schools is currently ramping up training initiatives in an effort to prepare administrators and teachers to effectively use LEAP. "We recently brought on a person who's in charge of training, systemization, and implementation," Herbert says. "We're also starting to look at helping principals and administrators make sense of these pieces of data. We want to help them with issues such as: What do you do when some data points seem contradictory? How do you make any sense out of that and come up with a portrait of that teacher?"

Kentucky: Lots of Feedback
Kentucky, an early adopter of Common Core, is "not instituting what we would call a new evaluation system," says Cathy White of the Office of Next-Generation Learners (part of the state DOE). "Instead, we are developing a new teacher effectiveness system so that we can support teachers who are working diligently to prepare our students to be college and career ready."

Kentucky is using the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES), built on the work of Charlotte Danielson and The Danielson Group. Educators are evaluated based on administrators' observations, peer observation, personal reflection, professional growth, student growth, and student voice (i.e., students' assessments of their teachers). Students' academic performance—on either CCSS-aligned tests or in the classroom—makes up only a small part of the teacher evaluation, which will focus on student growth. So instead of penalizing teachers for not getting all of their students up to a certain level of achievement on an assessment, teacher evaluations will consider the amount of growth-the progress students have made—toward academic goals.

"We don't want teachers to feel like we're going to beat up on them regarding where and how they're implementing the standards," White says. "We want this to be a system of feedback so educators can use information to grow and get better."

Unlike Wisconsin, the Denver public school system, and some other states, Kentucky will not be "weighting" the various aspects that are considered in teacher evaluation. Instead, "it is the professional judgment of the principal to use multiple sources of evidence as they inform the domains on the Framework for Teaching. Overall attribution will use a series of decision rules based on a matrix," White says.

Kentucky will not link teacher evaluation scores to pay, although White hopes the evaluations will be used in the future to make "informed personnel decisions."

"We mean to affirm teachers and allow them to have opportunities for continual forward movement within the profession that recognizes their specific skill sets," she adds.

This year, the system is being ­piloted statewide; at least 10 percent of the schools in each district will use the framework to assess five to nine teachers. In 2014-15, every district and every public school will use PGES to assess every teacher, "but not for the purpose of formal evaluation; it will simply be for implementation and learning," White says. "In 2015-16, it will be full implementation for the purpose of accountability."

New York City: Observation Is Key
The key to successful implementation of new teacher evaluation systems is communication, says Celeste Douglas, principal of the Ron Brown Academy in Brooklyn.

"It's hard to say to teachers, ‘You're now going to be assessed on standards that are basically new," Douglas says. "The scariest professional development I ever did was telling teachers their score would be 60 percent observation and 40 percent student assessment. But once we were able to really look at the rubric and talk about the percentages, people were able to calm down."

In New York, 20 percent of a teacher's evaluation is based on student performance on local assessments and 20 percent is student performance on state assessments, including the new Common Core-aligned tests. Local assessments can vary, depending on what subject and grade are being assessed. "In our English classroom, we use a performance assessment that was created by New York City," Douglas says.

Observations of teachers make up the bulk of their evaluation. In New York, administrators and educators can opt for either one formal observation and three informal (unannounced) observations, or six informal observations. Principals, however, have the leeway to do as many observations as they think are necessary to get a true feel for a teacher's work.

New York state has no plans for a grace period or moratorium. The decision to make teacher evaluations "count" while both teachers and students are still learning the Common Core State Standards has been the source of much controversy and contention.

"The powers that be are focused on the assessment of teachers and how to evaluate teachers' use of the Common Core before they help teachers prepare for this instructional shift," says Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. "First, teachers have to be confident about the instructional shift. They need to be able to adopt, adapt, refine, and take risks to see what works and what doesn't work, to see what the tests look like. Having some data from the administration of these tests is fine, but using that data in any consequential way other than for preparation reiterates that we have a testing fixation in this country.

"Some New York state administrators privately agree, but because they are bound by state law, they are channeling their energies into fair implementation of the new teacher evaluation system. They are also working to calm teachers' fears.

Douglas, for instance, downplays the worry that good teachers will suddenly be rated ineffective. "I think that's a myth. To be honest with you, a lot of teachers, at first, may be rated ‘developing' because this is a new evaluation system. That can be tough for a teacher to see, especially when you're not sure how these new standards are supposed to work in your classroom," she says.

But she wants her educators to understand that the evaluations are not designed to "get" teachers; the tools are instead supposed to help administrators pinpoint areas where teachers need to improve. "It's up to us to give teachers the support they need to get better," Douglas adds.

The issue of how to fairly evaluate teacher performance will be hotly debated for some time, as school districts around the country continue to revise their plans in response to state laws and public pressure.    

Winter 2014—

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