Archive for Monday, December 3, 2012

Lawrence district going its own way on teacher evaluations

Music teacher Lois Orth-Lopes leads students at Cordley School in a program rehearsal Thursday. Orth-Lopes is part of a team that’s developing a new teacher evaluation system for the Lawrence district.

Music teacher Lois Orth-Lopes leads students at Cordley School in a program rehearsal Thursday. Orth-Lopes is part of a team that’s developing a new teacher evaluation system for the Lawrence district.

December 3, 2012


Earlier this year, teachers in Chicago Public Schools went on strike, delaying the start of the new school year there for more than a week. One of the many issues in that strike, according to news reports, was a new system of conducting teacher evaluations that holds them accountable for students’ academic achievement and progress.

Such policies are part of a nationwide trend that has been stirring controversy in states and local school districts around the country. And it will soon take hold in Kansas, where districts are now required to have such a system in place by the 2014-15 school year.

But local officials who have been working on a new evaluation system for the Lawrence school district are hopeful that the transition will be much smoother here.

“I think as a district there is an understanding that the whole process of teacher evaluations has to be elevated to a much higher priority,” said Lois Orth-Lopes, a Cordley School music teacher who serves on a committee that’s developing the new system for Lawrence schools. “The board, I believe, understands that; the administration understands that; and I think the teachers understand that. If it’s to be meaningful, then it needs to be a priority.”

That requirement to include student performance as a major part of teacher evaluations was one of the conditions Kansas had to agree to as part of its recently approved waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law. Under policies of the Obama administration, states can receive those waivers only if they agree to implement a host of other educational reforms, including adopting new evaluation systems that use student growth as a major component.

The Kansas State Department of Education is now developing a model that will be available for any district to use. But the Lawrence school district, as well as several other large- and medium-sized districts in Kansas, has opted to craft its own.

“We were involved in the early meetings at the state level and had already started our own work here within the district,” Orth-Lopes said. “Even before the state came out with this, we realized that we wanted to make some changes of our own.”

Orth-Lopes represents the Lawrence Education Association on a 10-member working group — five teachers and five administrators — that’s developing the new system. LEA is the collective bargaining unit that represents local teachers in contract negotiations and other matters. She’s confident that when the new system is put in place, it will be much less controversial than it has been in Chicago and other places where it’s been tried.

Part of that, she said, is because the new system is being actively negotiated between teachers and the administration.

“We’re working hard to get buy-in from everybody, to make sure that people really understand the value of it, the effort that’s been put behind all of this work, and our commitment to members,” she said.

Angelique Kobler, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction who also serves on the team, agreed.

“As we talk about the purpose of evaluation, it’s not about ‘gotcha,’” she said. “It’s about supporting staff to continue to professionally grow. And I think a natural outcome of professionally growing and learning is student achievement.”

Another reason for the optimism, both said, is the fact that, unlike the policies in districts outside Kansas, student scores on standardized tests will not be used as the measure of student growth and achievement.

That has been a major source of controversy in other states, where critics of such plans say too much emphasis has already been placed on those high-stakes tests, forcing teachers to spend too much time “teaching to the test.” Pinning a teacher’s job and career on those tests, they say, would only make matters worse.

Instead, Lawrence officials are developing a system around a framework designed by Charlotte Danielson, a nationally renowned education theorist based in New Jersey who developed a framework for evaluations known as the Danielson model.

Danielson specifically advises against using standardized tests in teacher evaluations, arguing that they are not an accurate measure of how a student is progressing, or how effective a teacher has been.

Instead, Kobler and Orth-Lopes said, the system Lawrence is developing will use other indicators.

“For example,” Orth-Lopes said, “if it’s a language arts teacher, maybe some early examples of student writing (compared to) later examples. Or maybe a unit pre-test that was given before a particular unit of study and then the results of the post test. These are all possibilities.”

Using those kinds of measures also allows the evaluation system to be used for teachers in subjects that don’t have state assessments — classes like music, art and physical education. They can also be used for evaluating nonteaching professionals, such as counselors, school nurses and speech pathologists.

The key, they said, is that for every element on the evaluation, there are well-defined standards, or “rubrics,” that are used to determine whether the person being evaluated has or hasn’t met the expectations.

“It clearly defines what’s expected at each level so it’s not a secret for anybody what the definition of effective teaching is,” Kobler said.

When it’s fully in place, Orth-Lopes said, the new system will be vastly different from the current evaluation process.

“The current evaluation system that we have was put in place many years ago and it was, at the time, cutting-edge,” she said “Instead of there being a checklist of things you did well in or maybe didn’t do well in, it had a personal goal component. And at the time we adopted our current evaluation (system), that was like rocket science. To think that teachers would take some responsibility for growth and improvement, and tie that to their evaluation.”

“Over time, we see that there were some weaknesses with the model,” Orth-Lopes said. “But we also know, just because of research and the use of rubrics and language and all kinds of things — just the advancement of science and learning and brain research, all those kinds of things move us along. And so currently there are so many better ways of doing it.”

Kobler said the timeline calls for training administrators in how to use the new system this spring. Then in the summer, the committee will sign up teachers to volunteer to test out the system in the 2013-14 school year. Full implementation is planned for the following, 2014-15 school year.


optimist 5 years, 3 months ago

I like her approach for the most part but I don't agree that standardized testing has no place. It should remain a small component as to ensure a "standardized" measure of student results. Those results should not necessarily cause a teacher to lose their job but will allow a district to compare all math teachers, for instance, throughout the district to find out who the stronger teachers are and who the weaker teachers are. Then creating a mentoring system where stronger teachers can help develop weaker teachers and compensate the stronger teachers for their additional work. This would be a great way to fix many of the concerns in public education (i.e. teacher performance & development, student success and teacher compensation). I would also prefer a component that takes into consideration parent feedback, much like students evaluate college professors at universities around the country. I even think anonymous peer and administrator evaluations should be considered.

If our children are as important to us as we say they are then it's time that we ensure that we have the most competent, qualified and hard working teachers in every classroom. I believe for the most part we do. All of my children have had so many great teachers here in Lawrence but there have a been exceptions. It was difficult to know if these teachers were bad or just needed development or if it was my child at issue. Without data measuring trends with this teacher there was no way to know.

chootspa 5 years, 3 months ago

If the test scores don't stay with the student, and you don't have a pre-test before the year starts, the test doesn't it tell you who the strongest teachers are. It just tells you where the strongest students are. Most of the time you'll find the strongest students in the schools with the richest student body. Should the mentoring advice be, "Find the highest property values and teach at that school?"

I get what you're saying about mentoring, but those are things that can be accomplished with the proposed change in teacher evaluation.

Mark Currie 5 years, 3 months ago

As a retired teacher, I don't know how teachers can be expected to get results out of some kids who are used to telling their parents to f off and have already been in trouble with the law 2 or 3 times. I tried my best and had some success with some, kicked others out. This is more common at the high school level, I would guess. It happens more often than one would think. I had one class that I called " thugs and thieves" over 1/3 of that class had records, one was a sex offender. ( I didn't find this out until later) We need to make sure these teachers are getting support from the administration. I often saw that lacking in my school. And yes there were some good and great kids too. Those I had a LOT better time trying to make successful. It has to start at home, if possible. Thanks and have a nice day. I loved my job, but am glad it is over. 31 years was enough.

buffalo63 5 years, 3 months ago

I like the fact that teachers and administrators are working together on this isuue rather that it coming from the school board or superindentent. Whatever the procedure is developed, it will only be as good as the people implementing and following it. I had a superindentent ask me if the teachers would suspend the tenure rule as there were "bad" teachers that needed to be weeded out. My answer was you already have a procedure, just do your job.

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