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Stakes high for new teacher evaluation system

Student performance will factor into teacher’s evaluation.Hamilton, Middletown schools have started to implement system that will be required next school year.

School districts across Ohio are preparing to implement the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System next school year, which will rate teachers based on how well their students learn.

Evaluations currently follow no strict guidelines and are based almost entirely on a teacher’s performance. Beginning with the 2013-14 school year, two areas will equally factor into a teacher’s yearly final grade:

• Teacher performance, or how well teachers perform during two yearly observations

• “Student growth measures,” or how well students perform on standardized tests and in other measurable areas depending on the subject taught.

In the end, each teacher will be designated Accomplished, Proficient, Developing or Ineffective.

Hamilton City School District is in its second year of piloting the OTES. The first year, two principals in the district performed OTES assessment on two teachers. This year, each principal in the district is conducting at least one OTES assessment and one building — Wilson Middle School — will conduct OTES assessments on every full-time teacher.

“This has given us valuable experience that we’ll be able to use next year,” said Kathy Leist, Hamilton’s assistant superintendent for human resources. “It takes a significant amount of time to complete a full cycle, so the more comfortable the administrator is with the rubric, the more successful it will be the next year.”

Middletown City Schools is also piloting the OTES system, while at the same time piloting its own “Middletown Model,” according to Curriculum Director Betsy Carter.

“Our teacher union wanted to be able to have a choice,” she said. “The Middletown Model is based on the research of Robert Marzano and his book ‘The Art and Science of Teaching.’ ”

Teacher ratings will still be based 50 percent on student growth measures, but the law allows districts to use a different rubric, and the Marzano system is one of the approved standards.

“The only difference is how good instruction is defined,” Carter said.

In either case, the learning curve is “very complex,” Carter said, and administrators have been going through a process of “calibration” to become a credentialed evaluator.

One of the major concerns for school administrators is making sure that their principals and other evaluators have enough time to do a thorough and accurate job of evaluating each teacher, especially in light of the fact that their professional careers may count on it.

“The OTES model still requires a great deal of administrator time,” Leist said. “In preparation for this, we place deans in all of our elementaries who are administrators. That was part of the board’s foresight in knowing what’s coming down the pike.”

“Capacity is a great concern,” Carter said. “We have no plans and no funding to hire additional people.”

“It took me six hours just writing the first one, not counting the time talking to the teacher and the time I spent in the classroom,” Wilson Middle School principal Sheryl Burk said. “But this is important work, and I don’t mind the hours.

“My goal is to grow teachers, and that’s fun to watch happen,” she said. “You just have to have good time management skills.”

Some teachers are concerned about both sections of the evaluation, partly in the possibility that principals will be overloaded in a way that may affect their judgement.

“The actual evaluation system is not that much different from what we have in place now,” said Debi Gann, president of the Hamilton Classroom Teachers Association. “The difference is that every single teacher has to go through the process every year.

“An administrator who once did 10 or 12 evaluations a year is now being asked to do 40,” she said. “It includes everyone who teaches children, including Title I and special education teachers.”

Other teachers have expressed concerns about bias in the evaluator, but Leist and Carter said that the system is set up with specific instructions on what to look for in each area of assessment and must provide specific examples of whether a teacher is meeting the criteria of an area.

“If you use the rubric and provide substantive data and documentation, it will provide as accurate of an observational evaluation as we can,” Leist said.

“There is a mechanism in place so that anyone who evaluates you has to be credentialed by the ODE and it’s supposed to make sure that everyone is on the same page,” Gann said. “But we’re dealing with human beings.”

“While I like to think that an evaluator would come to my class would be able to give me feed back to help me improve — I believe that most administrators can do that — but I’ve heard horror stories where a teacher would get an evaluation back that would have a different name on it or it would describe a lesson that wasn’t part of the observation,” she said.

Teachers said they are also nervous about the use of student growth measures to determine their level of accomplishment. A child’s education is influenced by many factors outside the classroom, Gann said.

“That other half really concerns any educator I’ve talked to,” she said, “especially in an urban school where the poverty levels are high.

“If they don’t get help with their homework, if there’s no one to get them to bed on time or make sure they’re fed, they’re not likely to do well on a test on any given day,” Gann said. “A child is not a test score but a human being with free will. You can’t make them learn.”

However, Burk said teachers will also have a voice in the evaluation process.

“They have to write student learning objectives for every student,” she said.

“This will require a lot of professional development,” Carter said. “In Middletown, we have the advantage of meeting our value-added growth for the past two years. We’re not always getting them up to proficiency, but we are getting good growth and when I show them the past data, they relax a little.”

What remains to be seen is what will happen for teachers that receive “Ineffective” ratings.

Each board of education must come up with some kind of policy, and some kind of merit pay system is a possibility.

“I know that merit pay is hovering out there, but we don’t know a lot about it because there aren’t a lot of districts doing it, and I’ve never seen a merit pay system that looked logical,” Gann said.

“As the union president, I’m concerned about people losing their jobs because of a rating for a test score,” she said. “There are parts that we like, that are going to help teachers grow professionally. If that’s all it was used for, then there wouldn’t be a problem.”

“In Ohio, so many things are changing so fast, we don’t have time to process it all, and the stakes are very high,” she said.

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