Plattsburgh City School is close to finishing a teacher evaluation system that is to be a model for New York state, possibly the nation.
The school district, and five others in the state, was selected to create a new evaluation system according to guidelines pushed when the Obama administration rolled out Race to the Top. States that were awarded funding connected to that endeavor must revamp the way they evaluate teachers and administrators.
“We have worked out a document that focuses on the practice of teaching both inside the classroom and outside the classroom,” said Superintendent James “Jake” Short. “We have it based on quite a complex rubric we have designed.”
The new evaluation system measures teachers’ progress using local tools, with part of the process linking student test scores to the final grade. The new system outlines goals for continued progress and also makes it easier for districts to dismiss educators that repeatedly receive poor evaluations.
“It would not surprise me if funding gets tied to this,” Short said.
About two years ago, Plattsburgh became part of a grant with five other schools in New York State. The district’s main focus was to review peer assistance, and while that plays a major roll in the piece under development, the district also had to incorporate new regulations adopted by the state under Race to the Top.
Under the evaluation system created by Plattsburgh City School, 60 percent stems from direct observation. It is not a quick observation.
“This new system highly involves the teacher and principal all year long,” Short said. “They have to build a whole file of artifacts.”
Principals are required by state regulation to go through a training program and achieve certification to conduct the evaluations.
“All of our principals and supervisors have gone through the program,” Short said. “We are the first group to be certified in northern New York.”
Another 20 percent of the evaluation is a score the state gives the teacher based on students’ performance on standardized tests.
“If they don’t perform well, that 20 percent will be lower,” Short said.
The remaining 20 percent is based on internal measures of growth, also linked to student performance. But that is determined locally and is not based on standardized test scores.
“We are just now developing that part of the system,” Short said. “We are developing our own, but schools can spend money on testing companies. We believe we will have a better product if we work on it. You can learn a lot by creating something.”
Teachers in non-core subject areas that do not require standardized tests would be evaluated using multiple local measures for 40 percent of their score.
Teachers who exhibit outstanding performance must still undergo reflections and set goals to enhance their work.
Educators who are proven ineffective or developing, the two lowest terms, can be placed on a teacher-improvement plan. If a teacher has two consecutive years of poor performance, school districts can undertake an expedited 3020a hearing.
“That is the legal process for their removal from teaching,” Short explained. “It doesn’t matter if it is their first year of teaching or 40th year.”
Short stressed the process is new and the district will not hold evaluations against teachers the first year.
“These are state regulations, and the only part to be negotiated is the process for appeal, say for a poor evaluation.”
New York state is phasing in new evaluations, with core teachers in grades 4-8 falling under it this year and all educators the following year. Schools cannot ignore this, Short said.
Along the same lines, Plattsburgh City School is developing a new process to evaluate principals. It will be very similar to teacher evaluations and involve student test scores.
“We did a partnership with Saranac Central School for the principals’ part,” Short said.
“With this project being collaborative in nature, it will be a much better product,” said Saranac Central School Superintendent Kenneth Cringle. “It concentrates on the performance of our building administrators, measuring their effectiveness and performance in a much more formal process.
“Hopefully we will have a draft of this after the new year and start to pilot it early spring.”
Plattsburgh’s teacher evaluation process is available for other districts to examine.
Essentially, Short said, it boils down to a deeper look at the professional practice of teaching and educators being able to demonstrate student growth.
“No one can argue, that is a great concept,” Short said.