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Complex new system unveiled
Designed to support teachers, but much depends on implementation
by Maisie McAdoo | June 13, 2013 New York Teacher issue
The State Education Commissioner released the details of a complex new teacher evaluation plan on June 1 that will be used to rate K-12 classroom teachers beginning with the coming school year.
Commissioner John King’s 241-page document transformed the old Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory rating system, which gave teachers little guidance and principals almost sole discretion, into a multi-element review of their practice that can help them improve their teaching.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew said the plan represents a “paradigm shift” for city schools because it is intended to support the work inside classrooms — the core of education. It is designed to be fair to teachers, he said, though much depends on the monumental challenge of putting it into practice.
“The commissioner’s plan is professional and fair and is designed to help teachers improve their skills throughout their careers,” he told members in a letter. “Our biggest concern, given this administration’s terrible track record, is implementation.”
The plan is the result of a binding arbitration process led by Commissioner King that followed the failure of the New York City Department of Education to negotiate an evaluation agreement with the UFT five months ago.
Based on state law
In conformance with the 2010 state law on evaluations, teachers will be rated on both student learning and classroom observations. The new system, in which the commissioner ruled on issues that the DOE and the union did not agree on, permits teachers to use artifacts of their teaching toward their review and will eventually incorporate student surveys as part of evaluations.
The 2010 law, which the UFT negotiated in Albany with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state legislators, was passed over the objections of Mayor Bloomberg and then-Chancellor Joel Klein, who wanted evaluations based largely on student test scores. The successful passage resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Race to the Top funds for the state’s schools.
The commissioner’s new order fleshes out the 2010 law with many specifics of how student learning will be assessed and how classroom teaching will be supported and judged.
Elements that do not work or prove to be unfair can be revisited during the next contract negotiations, once a new mayor arrives at City Hall, Mulgrew reminded members.
However, some elements of the new plan were evident wins for teachers. The commissioner did not adopt Mayor Bloomberg’s vision of a system that gave the DOE unchecked powers and focused on getting rid of “ineffective” teachers. Announcing his decision, King said, “Let’s be clear: New York is not going to fire its way to academic success.”
Instead, the plan limits the use of high-stakes test scores in evaluations and gives teachers a voice in how they are observed and what student performance measures are included.
The 20-20-60 formula
Under the plan, teachers are rated Highly Effective, Effective, Developing or Ineffective on a scale from 0 to 100. Twenty points are based on state measures of student learning growth such as improvement on standardized tests; another 20 points use locally selected measures of student performance; and the remaining 60 points come from classroom observations and other measures of teacher performance.
If the state approves a new value-added measurement system, the weighting will shift to 25 points for state measures of student learning and 15 points for local measures for grades 4-8 teachers of math and English language arts.
Part of the complexity of the new system stems from the variety of ways that student learning can be assessed. State growth scores based on state ELA and math tests can be used for the state measures only for teachers of those subjects in grades 4-8, who make up about 16 percent of the city’s teachers.
Some other state tests, such as science exams or Regents, can be used for teachers in those subjects, but there must be a baseline to measure growth against that the DOE has to create. For the thousands of teachers whose students do not take state tests, the DOE or the state must develop student performance assessments reflective of Common Core standards or use alternative forms of assessment in the interim. All these measures must be in place by Oct. 1.
The local measures of student learning are equally complicated. For most teachers, a committee of four union-selected and four principal-appointed members at each school will select a measure or measures from a menu of state-approved options.
If the committee and the principal cannot come to an agreement, then the school uses the default measure: a school-wide measure of student growth. The local measures of student learning will be selected by the same process for grades 4-8 teachers of ELA and math if the DOE has not yet developed performance assessments for their subjects.
The observation cycle
Principals or other administrators who conduct classroom observations must be trained to use all 22 components of Charlotte Danielson’s well-regarded Framework for Teaching rubric. (The DOE had wanted to cherry-pick a small fraction of the most difficult Danielson components but was overruled by the commissioner, Mulgrew told members.)
Using all 22 components “allows for the assessment of all that teachers do behind the scenes, in their classrooms, in their communities and with their colleagues,” said UFT Vice President Janella Hinds.
Teachers will be able to choose how they are observed and for the first time, principals will have to give them feedback following each observation.
Mandated twice-yearly conferences mean teachers will have professional conversations with their supervisors about their teaching, using an educationally sound rubric of best practices.
A student survey, which will not count in evaluations in the 2013–2014 school year, was adopted over the union’s objections, The commissioner selected the Tripod survey instrument for students in grades 3 to 12.
Tripod scores will make up 5 points of the evaluation in subsequent years.
Supports and protections
The new system builds in multiple layers of protection for teachers. The commissioner’s final order adopted several of the union’s key suggestions for ensuring fairness and incorporates an appeals process that the union and the DOE signed in 2011 for New York City teachers only.