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Peoria pilot teacher-evaluation program links to student achievement

Can you imagine what this teacher evaluation form will look like? The current evaluation is three pages. The pilot evaluation is eight pages, better detailing the numerous aspects of teaching.

And why? Great Schools rates the Peoria AZ district at 8 out of 10.

by Jeffrey Javier

The Peoria Unified School District is piloting a new way of evaluating teachers that offers more feedback and eventually will gauge their success and salary increases, in part, on student performance.

Peoria teachers pay hikes already are tied to evaluations. What's new is tying that to how well students do.

Teachers are mixed about the new approach. They embrace more feedback, but they worry about whether it will be fair and how exactly student achievement will reflect on them.

The national call for a better way of grading teachers is widespread as some say current methods fail to sort the good from the bad teachers. In Arizona, a state law will take effect in the 2012-13 school year that requires up to 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation be based on student performance.

Peoria was ahead of the curve, beginning two years ago to revamp its 15-year-old teacher-evaluation system. More than tying student and teacher success together, the district wanted a more in-depth look at teacher performance.

The new evaluation system is being piloted this school year among 65 teachers in eight elementary schools and two high schools.

It's expected to go before the school board next spring for final approval to use in all schools beginning next school year. The student-performance component is likely to kick in a year after that.

Peoria parent Katie Jimenez welcomes a more in-depth evaluation of what goes on in classrooms so that teachers can improve their skills.

"It will be helpful for students in that teachers will be more aware of exactly what's expected of them and what level they should perform to," Jimenez said.

Under the current model, teachers are evaluated in eight categories such as classroom management skills, professionalism and engaging students in learning. Depending on how well a teacher performs, an evaluator rates them in three categories: meets or exceeds, needs improvement or unsatisfactory.

If a teacher receives one "unsatisfactory" mark or three areas of "needs improvement," they are placed on an improvement plan.

The district's director of human resources said the new system would take evaluation "a step further."

Tahlya Visintainer said it would provide more "robust" feedback and give teachers more than "you're doing a good job."

Teachers would still be rated, although in four categories: excelling, proficient, developing or unsatisfactory.

A challenge will be in scope. The current evaluation is three pages. The pilot evaluation is eight pages, better detailing the numerous aspects of teaching.

Before the final version goes to the school board, district officials hope to streamline the bulkier new method.

Visintainer said because the evaluation "covers every possible thing you can imagine" it is labor intensive for the principals, who perform them.

Centennial High School teacher Michael White isn't convinced an entirely new procedure is necessary.

"More dialogue with my administrators would do a lot more for me than changing the system," the economics teacher said.

But others like Liberty High School teacher Mark Moffett called the current evaluation "a little generic."

"It doesn't measure all the elements of good teaching like the new one," said Moffett, co-president of Peoria Education Association.

The evaluation in development would give administrators a better idea of who does and doesn't do well in certain areas.

"You aren't going to have 95 percent of teachers getting perfect evaluations," Moffet said.

Adam West, Cactus High School teacher and co-president of the teacher's union, cautions the new evaluation must be used to improve teachers and not just eliminate poor performers.

And he questions whether principals will be consistent under the new model and ensure everyone has a fair chance.

"I would hope everyone will be evaluated the same way," West said.

Perhaps the biggest question that remains is how the district will implement the state requirement that all teachers have 33 to 50 percent of their evaluation based on student academic performance. The state Board of Education isn't expected until December 2011 to lay out how districts should define student performance.

That means Peoria could roll out its new model next fall without that component, which would be added when the state issues its guidelines.

Moffett said there are important discussions happening on this issue, but he's concerned there are too many variables to measure student performance as part of teacher performance.

"That's the question of the ages, how do you measure student performance and line it up to a teacher's performance?" Moffett said.

He said factors impact student performance for which teachers have no control and shouldn't be accountable for, such as a lack of parent involvement or a lack of good nutrition.

"We're not afraid of being held accountable but to do so in an objective way is a challenge," Moffett said.

Some say the solution is clear, that Arizona and others should use standardized tests to gauge student and teacher success.

Dan Weisberg, vice president of policy and general council for the New York City-based New Teacher Project, a group that works to improve teacher quality in urban and high-poverty schools, called such tests an "objective way" of evaluating teachers.

"It's what keeps everyone honest," Weisberg said.

— Jeffrey Javier
Arizona republic





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