Process to assess teachers may change

The Lawrence school district could change the way it grades its teachers.

For the past three years, a committee has looked at ways to improve the evaluation process that teachers must go through every year. On Tuesday night, those proposed changes, which are part of ongoing negotiations between the school district and teachers union, were presented to the school board.

If adopted, all teachers would be observed in the classroom and evaluated based on their planning and preparation skills, classroom environment, instruction and professional responsibilities. Those who fail to meet proficient levels in each of those categories would be given suggestions for improvement.

“Reports are very positive that teachers who are put on plans of improvement have had a high success rate of making those changes and having success in the district,” said Lois Orth-Lopes, an elementary school teacher who is co-chairwoman of the committee that has been studying the changes.

The district’s evaluation model hasn’t been updated in 14 years. At the time it was introduced to Lawrence schools, it was state of the art and developed with the help of teachers and Kansas University researchers.

“It moved away from meaningless checklists and had teachers taking responsibility for their personal growth,” said Angelique Kobler, who is the district’s division director of curriculum and instruction.

Currently, new teachers and those on probation are observed several times in the classroom throughout the year. Experienced teachers don’t have to be observed but do meet with an administrator once a year to review an “individual growth plan” and to verify that they meet district expectations. Teachers can also fill out self-evaluations.

Under the proposed change, all teacher evaluations would include classroom observations along with self-evaluations and individual growth plans.  

For teachers in their first three years at the district, two evaluations would be done twice a year, and each would involve two 30-minute observations in the classrooms. For the more-experienced teachers, evaluations would occur every three years and include two 30-minute observations in the classroom.  

An important part of the process would be the conferences held between the teacher and administrator before and after the classroom observations.

“We find that every teacher, including master teachers, benefits from having someone come in and offer feedback,” Orth-Lopes said.

The new evaluation criteria has been successfully used in five similar districts in Kansas, committee members told the school board. School board members supported the changes.

Board Vice President Vanessa Sanburn noted that a school doesn’t kick out students if they receive poor marks. Instead, teachers develop a plan to help them improve.

“It mirrors how we educate our kids,” she said.  

Teacher evaluations are just one of the many pieces in recent negotiations between the school district and teachers union.