Education Group Supports Pittsburgh’s Teacher Evaluation System

Pittsburgh Public Schools has developed a new evaluation system that will take effect in the 2013-14 school year to help improve all teachers’ performance in the classroom. A+ Schools, an education advocacy group, has released a new a report stating that the teacher evaluation system is truly a “teacher improvement system,” according to Eleanor Chute of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

“We have a system now that is much more detailed, that reflects five years of collaboration between teachers and administrators, that is a vast improvement from what the system was five years ago,” said Amy Scott, director of research and data analysis for A+ Schools.

Beginning in 2013-14, a new Pennsylvania law requires half of the rating to be based on observation and half on student outcomes in all school districts. Historically, teachers in the state were rated solely on classroom observation.

In Pittsburgh, the observation half comes via Research-based Inclusive System of Evaluation (RISE). Also, the district has its own valued-added measurements aimed at showing how much learning a student has gained in a year based on tests, student surveys and building-level data.

Pittsburgh found that 85% of classroom teachers were performing at the level of proficient or above. About 5.3% were in the “needs improvement” category while 9.3% failing. Under the 2012-13 system, 3% were rated unsatisfactory, the rest satisfactory.

Pittsburgh was given permission by the state to operate its system differently than other districts in the state. The A+ Schools report praised the district for using “multiple measures,” which it said are more reliable than the old measure of just classroom observations.

The Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers is opposing the district’s new standards. A+ Schools, in its report, did not weigh in on the debate over whether the district has set the line too high to meet the standard. “This means teachers may ask lower level questions and not always engage all students in discussions or clarify their misconceptions,” the report stated.

In addition, the report said that Pittsburgh should continually work to make sure the measures are reliable, accurate and provide timely feedback for improvement to teachers. The report noted that 95% of teachers participating in RISE were rated proficient or distinguished on communicating with students and organizing physical space. About a third of teachers in RISE received a score of “basic” on using questioning and discussion techniques.

According to recent poll numbers published by the American Federation of Teachers, the majority of public school parents are not on board with the general direction education reform has taken. The data, collected by Democratic pollster Hart Research Associates, comes from responses given by 1,000 parents this month, and shows that majority of families would prefer that more resources be put towards improving their local schools than providing them with alternatives like charters.

More than 60% of parents polled expressed dissatisfaction with the policy of closing poorly-performing schools and reassigning students elsewhere. The survey, which has a margin of error of 3.1%, showed that about a third of the parents supported the policy.