This piece comes to us courtesy of New Haven Independent.
NEW HAVEN, CONN. -- Of the 58 teachers flagged as low-performing last academic year, the school system helped 20 “up their game,” gave 10 another year to prove themselves, and ushered 28 out the door.
The school district released the results from the 2011-12 school year at Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting, along with results of similar evaluations for principals and central office staff. The district also named a teacher of the year and three runners-up, all “exemplary” teachers according to the new rating system.
Poor job evaluations also prompted one principal and two assistant principals to leave the district of their own accord, according to schools Assistant Superintendent Garth Harries, who presented the data to the school board.
Click here to read his report.
For a second year in a row, the district pushed out low-performing teachers without firing anyone, and while maintaining good relations with the teachers union. In total, 17 tenured teachers and 11 non-tenured teachers, or 1.9 percent of the teaching force, left the district because of poor performance on job evaluations, according to Harries.
The district hailed the results as another successful chapter for what has become the most-watched part of its school reform effort—creating a teacher evaluation system based in part on student performance on tests, without going to war with teachers. While this particular reform has caused uproar in other cities, including a week-and-a-half-long teachers’ strike in Chicago, New Haven has carried out the new grading system in peace.
The new system, brought about by an overwhelmingly ratified 2009 teachers contract, makes it easier for the district to fire tenured teachers who aren’t performing well. Teachers get graded in five categories, from 1 (“needs improvement”) to 5 (“exemplary”). Teachers’ scores come from classroom observations and goals they set for their kids, based largely on growth on students’ standardized test scores. All teachers must be notified by Nov. 1 if they’re at risk of scoring in the bottom category; they’re given extra support and feedback throughout the year. The teachers union plays a part in choosing “validators” who rank them.
The goal of the system, said Harries, is not to boot low-performing teachers, but to give them the help they need to improve.
“The point is to develop our staff, to give them long-term careers,” he said. Thanks to a new $53 million grant from the federal government, teachers who scored “exemplary” will now be in the running for new leadership positions and higher pay.
The city has earned national plaudits, including from The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, for implementing the new system ahead of the national curve, and for doing so in collaboration with teachers.
Teachers union President Dave Cicarella said Tuesday the system is working well. He called it “not only consequential, but fair.” He said it has helped teachers “up their game,” and has given them ample early notification when they need to do so.
Here are the results from the past academic year, 2011-12:
Of the 1,457 teachers whose grades were reported Tuesday, 13 percent rated “exemplary”; 53 percent “strong”; 24 percent “effective”; 5 percent “developing” and 2 percent “needs improvement” by the end of the school year. Another 3 percent were not rated.
According to the system, teachers who score “needs improvement” face losing their jobs after one year. “Developing” teachers have to become “effective” within two years or they too may face termination.
All teachers get notified by Nov. 1 if they’re on track to be in the top or bottom category. A total of 58 teachers were either notified on Nov. 1, 2011 that they were potential “needs improvement,” or were given “non-renewal” notices in April, the mechanism by which non-tenured teachers are fired.
What happened to those 58 teachers who got warned they might lose their jobs?
A third of them improved enough by the end of the year to hang on to their jobs: 15 rose to the “developing” category, number 2; and five jumped up to “effective,” number 3. Another 19 remained at the bottom-performing category, and 19 others were unavailable for an end-of-year conference, either because they resigned, retired or went on leave.
In total, 28 teachers—17 tenured and 11 non-tenured—left the district because of their poor job evaluation, Harries said. Another 10 were given the “benefit of the doubt” and allowed to stay on for another year.
The teachers who left did so “with dignity,” by resigning or retiring, Harries said; none were fired. And none are contesting their job evaluations in arbitration hearings, he said.
TOO PEACEFUL A PROCESS?
Board member Alex Johnston called the results “really encouraging” and said the results show the new system is working. He applauded the district for “emphasizing collaboration” and improving instruction.
He asked why the district did not push termination hearings for any teachers. If that pattern continues, he said, “it would raise a question in my mind” whether the district was being proactive enough in pushing out low-performers.
In a conversation before the meeting, Hill Central School Principal Glen Worthy expressed a similar sentiment: “The issue is if the teacher is a 1, and you give them the most possible support,” and the teacher does not improve, “then they should be terminated.”
Harries answered that critique in part by showing what happened to the prior year’s teachers whom the district decided not to fire. After the 2010-11 school year, 34 low-performing teachers left the district of their own accord. The district gave another 15 a second chance, even though they had scored in the “needs improvement” category and could have been fired. Of the 15 teachers who were given a second chance, the majority improved enough in 2011-12 to earn the right to stay: five became “developing” and four became “effective” teachers, according to their instructional managers. Another four weren’t available for end-of-year conferences, mainly because they had resigned, Harries said. And only two remained at the “needs improvement” level in June of 2012.
Half of teachers professed satisfaction with the new evaluation system, according to a survey conducted by the district. A quarter counted themselves dissatisfied, and the rest had not made up their minds.
Harries pointed out that teachers favor the system by a 2-1 margin.
Union President Cicarella said most of those who are dissatisfied say so not because they object to the process, but because they feel their instructional manager—the principal or assistant principal who’s grading them—did not follow the process correctly.
Union Vice-President David Low agreed.
“The only complaint anyone has is implementation fidelity,” he said. Teachers agree there are “no fundamental flaws” with the process, he said. “Teachers had a lot of input” on how the system was created, he noted—“when you invest people in your own instrument, there’s a buy-in.”
The grading system aims to promote fairness in part by employing independent validators to double-check grades for teachers who score 1s or 5s. The validators make unannounced classroom visits and see if they agree with a principal or assistant principal’s evaluation.
The validators are providing a healthy check to the system, noted Harries: Of 95 “exemplary” teachers referred for validation, validators decided 29 of them didn’t fit in the “exemplary” category. Validators placed 10 in the “effective” category, 19 as “strong” and 66 as “exemplary.”
Teachers who are validated as “exemplary” (such as Erica McDaniel, pictured, a runner-up for Teacher of the Year) may be tapped for new leadership opportunities, according to a new plan supported by a $53.4 million Teacher Incentive Fund grant the city just scored from the federal government. The fund allows for teachers to receive extra pay if they become a “master teacher,” as well as if they work in one of the city’s more challenging schools. Plans have not yet been finalized; click here to read more.
The grant will also pay to hire more help in the school district’s central office to administer the teacher evaluation program, according to Harries.
In addition to teachers, administrators and central office staff all got graded along a similar rubric, based on key “competencies.”
Of the 90 principals and assistant principals in the school system, 11 percent rated “exemplary”; 34 percent “strong”; 39 percent “effective”; 14 percent “developing”; 2 percent “needs improvement”; and 7 percent received no rating.
Of the 24 central office staff whose grades were reported, 17 percent rated “exemplary; 42 percent “strong”; 25 percent “effective”; 12 percent “developing”; and 4 percent, or one person, “needs improvement.” Some grades had not yet been finalized by the time of the report.
Board member Johnson said that when he looked at those numbers, one conclusion popped off the page: 66 percent of teachers were rated “strong” or higher, compared to just 45 percent of administrators and 59 percent of central office staff.
“Do we just have a more talented core of teachers than of administration and central office staff?” Johnson asked.
Harries said he believes the city’s teaching force is “outstanding” and that principals and administrators may be evaluated with a “tighter eye.”
The school board has yet to release an evaluation for the superintendent along the lines of the new grading system. School board member Carlos Torre, who was reelected to his post as president Tuesday, said the board is amid an extensive evaluation involving interviews with parents, teachers, students and staff. He said the evaluation should be complete by the end of the month.
TEACHER OF THE YEAR
The school district this year timed its teacher evaluation announcement with the annual teacher awards.
David Low, who has taught at Sound School Regional Vocational Aquaculture Center since 1998, won the top honor as Teacher of the Year. As vice-president of the teachers union, he focuses on school reform and high schools. He has helped guide the path of school change through his role on the Reform Committee, which is made up of three teachers, three administrators and two parents.
Low has pushed the city to avoid test-score-mania and instead focus on engaging students with innovative solutions that might not boost scores in year one, but will lead to long-term and meaningful learning.
In August of 2011, Low created a new group, Educators for Progress, Innovation and Collaboration, or EPIC, through which teachers meet after school and on weekends to help each other improve their craft. The group now has over 100 members, all from New Haven, Low said.