The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

The Rave

July 14, 2012

More ways to grade teachers in new system

The new teacher evaluation system taking effect next year in Pennsylvania will use more measures to assess student achievement and revise ratings to improve teacher performance.

Certainly, the current evaluation system, which classifies 99.4 percent of all Pennsylvania teachers as "satisfactory," needs more clarity at a time when research shows the single-most important thing schools can do for students is connect them with highly effective teachers.

The new evaluation system will use student performance, test scores, attendance and graduation rates to judge teachers, rather than basing evaluations solely on classroom observation.

Multiple measures and rankings are key factors for improving teacher evaluations, according to The New Teacher Project (TNTP) a nonprofit organization founded by teachers working in more than 40 U.S. cities to improve the quality of education.

"No single data point can paint a complete picture of a teacher's performance, so evaluation systems should use multiple measures to determine whether teachers have met performance expectations," the TNTP wrote in a recent position paper on teacher evaluations.

Pennsylvania is also expanding the teacher evaluation rating scale, increasing the number of possible performance rating categories from two -- satisfactory and unsatisfactory -- to four -- distinguished, proficient, needs improvement, fails.

"This number of categories is large enough to give teachers a clear picture of their current performance, but small enough to allow for clear, consistent distinctions between each level," the TNTP wrote about a similar evaluation system.

Specifying whether a teacher should receive an "effective" versus "needs improvement" rating, for example, helps ensure that teacher receives support tailored to specific needs, the TNTP writes.

But the needs that are most important in this process are those of the students.

Pennsylvania's new system includes leeway to develop local measures for 20 percent of the total teacher-grading process. So as this new teacher evaluation system takes shape in local districts, it should include mechanisms to help teachers identify and assist students who come to school unprepared to learn, and who go home to families where there is no commitment toward academic motivation and support.

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