Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Proposal: How to Evaluate New Jersey Teachers

Two March 19 newspaper articles, one in the Courier News and one in the Wall Street Journal, addressed  problems that will be faced by those empowered to design the metrics that will be used to evaluate teacher effectiveness in the new tenure reform measures being developed in both New Jersey and New York. In New York, the Rochester and Buffalo teachers’ unions are insisting that the test scores of chronically absent students should not be held against a teacher as part of their evaluation. There is also concern with the inordinate power being given to principals in determining the final “grade” a teacher will receive. The article also points out that wealthier school districts, which typically don’t face the same problems as those faced in the inner city, may decide that the disruption that this new evaluation system may engender is not worth the trouble, as they are generally content with the performance of their teachers.

There are currently 11 school districts in New jersey experimenting with a model evaluation system, providing anecdotes and empirical data that can be used by legislators in preparing the final draft of Senator Ruiz’s TEACHNJ bill, S1455. The article focused on particular observation, noting the difficulty that pricipals and other evaluators may encounter when trying to assess the overall performance of a teacher in her presentation of her observed lesson. The article also noted the importance of training evaluators, and eluded to a point I believe is essential to a strong, legitimate performance review, that being the use of “professional observers” to handle the important task of evaluating teacher performance.

I have been arguing along similar lines, believing that every school district should hire clinical supervisors whose only job will be to work with teachers to improve their effectiveness in the classroom. These observers would also have a vital role in the critical evaluations that will be done for each member of the faculty. It is not hard to find any number of teachers with horror stories to tell about their principal’s arbitrary and capricious behavior towards individual members of the staff. It is perfectly understandable that teachers are hesitant to place their tenure and their careers in the hands of these administrators. Their concerns are legitimate and must be addressed in any final writing of the bill.

Every district in New Jersey has been charged with designing a list of metrics, and the rubrics that will be used to assess performance in each metric, as the basis for evaluating the performance of their teachers. Even something that seems so straightforward as using a quantitative metric like test scores is problematic since only 2 of the 7 content areas identified by the State have a standardized test in place, those being math and language arts, the two subjects covered in New Jersey’s HSPA.

As a former teacher, I feel that I have a fairly good understanding of their concerns and desire to actively participate in the creation of the metrics and rubrics that will be used. I have put a lot of thought into identifying what I believe are the qualities that make for an effective teacher, and believe that an evaluation system can be created from this that will meet with approval from both the NJEA and the other stakeholders empowered to develop a framework for these evaluations. As I see it, five metrics should be established to assess teacher effectiveness, and within each metric a set of rubrics, rubrics that include both qualitative and quantitative factors, should be created. The assessment would look at the performance of both the teacher and the students whose learning they are responsible for. For anyone who’s listening, these are the metrics, or categories, I propose:

       1.      Passion

2.      Organization

3.      Knowledge

4.      Empowerment

5.      Utilization of Resources

I invite your comments and feedback, especially from any teachers that are reading my blog. I believe that this is a fair, valid, and uncomplicated approach to teacher evaluations. It addresses issues that both teachers and administrators would agree are characteristic of successful teachers. I’m of course a little biased, but I’d love to see it given a try.

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