Penn. Teacher Evaluations to Combine Observation with Test Scores

Starting this fall, Pennsylvania will begin a three-year rollout of a new teacher assessment system that will take into account objective measures of student progress such as standardized test scores. Sara K. Satullo of The Express-Times reports that the system, which was signed into law in 2012, will also eventually be used to assess the performance of top-level administrators and principals starting in 2014-15 academic year.

Previously, classroom observation was used as the only evaluating tool, with teachers being graded either as satisfactory or unsatisfactory. Ron Tomalis, Pennsylvania Education Secretary in 2009, called out this approach as a farce since it marked as satisfactory nearly 100% of the teachers assessed.

Tomalis' views were recently echoed by the current Deputy Secretary of the state Department of Education Carolyn Dumaresq, who said that her experience in the trenches proved to her that evaluators weren't giving their colleagues constructive criticism of their performance.

"We want to make sure we are giving feedback to teachers to help them grow," she said. "We know the most important thing to increase student achievement in the classroom is the teacher."

The department has spent the past three years piloting the new system with 300 of the state's 500 school districts, Dumaresq said.

"It is complex because the artistry of teaching is complex," she said. "And it shouldn't just be one thing that we say, ‘We are going to measure this and this and it counts for all things teachers do.'"

The new system will retain a classroom evaluation component, but assessors will be using the ‘Danielson method,' which combines observation with a checklist containing the skills a well-performing teacher should demonstrate. According to Dumaresq, the purpose is to make the classroom observation less subjective.

The Danielson method is already being used to evaluate instructor performance in the Bethlehem Area School District, according to the Assistant Superintendent for Education Jack Silva. Districts that have already adopted this approach will have an easier time transitioning to the new assessment system this year.

"If the Danielson method is applied well, it is a powerful tool for teacher improvement," Silva said.

The state has been training administrators on the method through local intermediate units and it has provided free professional development materials that include videos of teachers exhibiting desired skills, Dumaresq said.

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