Connecticut Likely to Ease into New Teacher Evaluations

Connecticut administrators and teachers may win some reprieve in the push to start using a new teacher evaluation system. Writing in The Hartford Courant, Kathleen Megan explains that while the system will be in use next year, the Board of Education is considering a proposal to allow districts to phase it in more gradually.

Connecticut's Performance Evaluation Advisory Council, which designed the new teacher evaluation system, has recommended that the state not mandate universal implementation for next fall. Instead, school districts could choose to evaluate teachers in just one-third of their schools. While school districts and teachers understand and generally support the evaluation model, they are anxious about how smoothly its use will be in the first year. The PEAC discussed early feedback from schools now using it:

Morgaen Donaldson, of the UConn Neag School of Education, also presented a report on the 10 districts that are piloting the new evaluation system. Donaldson said her team's work, based on interviews with teachers and administrators during the first few months of the school year, turned up general support for the evaluation model. She also found agreement that the roll-out of the evaluation system had been too rushed.

The advisory council has representatives of all of the state's education stakeholders, including teachers' unions. Last year, they negotiated what the new evaluation system would look like. Its pilot form, in use this year in a few schools, makes use of student standardized test scores, but it also works in other forms of evaluation. These include observation by supervisors and how well teacher meet their planned goals. School administrators who are tasked with carrying out all of these facets of evaluation are aware that it will be a lot of work, and that many things could go wrong. They are relieved to hear that perhaps the requirements will be less rigid at first.

Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents said, "I think we were looking for flexibility and we got it, so we're pleased with that…. Like any consensus, is everything there that you want? No, but we've reached enough consensus, given districts enough flexibility, that I think we can go forward."

The nationwide push to create quantitative ways to rate teachers has most school administrators feeling short of breath, as the changes come on top of other curriculum and technology changes. Schools in New Jersey are expected to switch over to online student testing in just two years, which may place a large strain on school technology resources.

As in Connecticut, the student scores generated this way will be part of teacher evaluations, so the teachers feel that the stakes are high. While the tests should be about student learning, having to make so many changes at once opens the possibility that actual student learning won't be reflected in the standardized scores.

Many states are now debating what role standardized test scores should have in evaluating teachers. Most states are trying to incorporate them, since they are a convenient numerical benchmark. But teachers' unions are unhappy, saying that these are flawed measures of teaching.

Critics of such evaluations say that teachers are forced into "teaching to the test," which discourages real creative teaching and relationship-building with students. Most states are trying to strike a balance, and nearly all of them are in flux.
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