By Shawn P. DeRose, Director of Student Activities, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
Over the past three years, thirty-six states including our state of Virginia, have introduced new teacher evaluation system policies. The revised evaluation system, Guidelines for Uniform Performance Standards and Evaluation Criteria, includes seven standards for all Virginia teachers.
According to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) website, the model calls for 40 percent of teachers’ evaluations to be based on student academic progress, as determined by multiple measures of learning and achievement, including, student-growth data. Standards related to professional knowledge, instructional planning, instructional delivery, assessment of and for student learning, learning environment and professionalism each account for ten percent of the evaluation and performance rating within the model.
The new evaluation system was adopted in April 2011 and school districts were expected to implement the new system the following school year.
The issue most school districts face is the use of “student growth data.” For example, the VDOE website outlines growth via the end-of-course state assessments year-to-year from 4th grade to 8th grade in reading. However, it raises the question for two-thirds of teachers whose students who do not take an end of course test (EOC), “What student growth data should I use?”
To address that issue our school system asked all teachers to set SMARTR goals with the assistance of their administrator at the beginning of the school year that will measure student growth throughout the year.
This approach (SMARTR Goals) is focusing teachers on student achievement trends that demonstrate the need for additional instruction in areas such as AP free response, retention of concepts over time, research skills, and problem-solving abilities.
These open-ended skills can be difficult to measure objectively, placing the measure of student growth in the hands of the person whose job depends on the progress. Our school system granted principals the leeway to require that collaborative teams set the student progress goals. This approach has initially led to increased efforts among teachers to work together to establish core expectations in common classes.
Another positive component of SMARTR goals is the requirement that a continuum of growth be established so that students who score high on the initial assessment are identified early and additional expectations and/or enrichments are initiated early in the process.
However, the rapid speed that is required to implement the initiative due to the unwillingness of the state to allow for a pilot year has left many teachers and administrators of courses and departments without standardized assessments, scrambling to establish a baseline measurement to gauge student progress against.
As an administrator, the new teacher evaluation system has forced me to regularly reflect and practice the skill set necessary for all effective evaluators as outlined in NASSP’s Breaking Ranks: 10 Skills for Successful School Leaders. These “Educational Leadership” skills include: Setting Instructional Direction, Teamwork and Sensitivity.
Working with and attending training with teachers to create SMARTR goals has provided me the opportunity to work directly with teachers, use the information we learned in the training and apply it to the classroom. In addition, because the process is new to teachers and administrators alike, I have approached the new teacher evaluation process as an opportunity to change the culture and celebrate teachers who lead their collaborative teams through this process (Teamwork) and encourage them to take risks.
However, change is difficult. Many teachers have expressed additional stress as a result of the new teacher evaluation system. As a result, I have utilized my “Cognitive Coaching” training and unlike in previous years, had a large number of conversations with teachers (individual and group) who have questions or have expressed concerns with the implementation of the new system. The more aware I became of the teachers needs and concerns, the better I have been able to work with them to focus on student achievement.