A lot is up in the air for the future of teacher evaluation as members of the U.S. House and Senate hash out new federal education policy this fall. The versions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) passed by the House and Senate don’t require teacher evaluation plans, so Connecticut will likely have increased discretion going forward to make changes to educator evaluation if state lawmakers see fit.
“Regardless of what we want to plan for, a lot is going to depend on what happens in Washington, D.C.,” CEA President Sheila Cohen told other members of Connecticut’s Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) at a meeting yesterday. “Obviously that is going to be the main driver in terms of what our guidelines end up being and in terms of what our mandates are.”
Until a new version of ESEA comes out of Washington, PEAC members are focusing on improving the state’s evaluation system as it currently stands.
Training for evaluators is one area that CEA leaders on the Council have previously highlighted as needing attention, and yesterday PEAC heard from administrators in the Wolcott Public Schools about their efforts to improve evaluator training.
“We wanted to provide for more important and quality feedback to teachers, and through our Professional Development and Evaluation Committee we heard that teachers also wanted improved feedback,” said Frank Purcaro, director of student learning and teaching at Wolcott Public Schools.
Some district administrators took part in a several day training and then took that information back to other administrators in the district.
“Before the training we had been overly concerned with evidence gathering, and the evaluation became just a scripting experience,” Purcaro said. “This needs to be about feedback, moving teachers forward, and promoting continuous growth and improvement.”
Wolcott High School Assistant Principal Deborah Osvald said she had previously “felt the need to collect, collect, collect. It was through the training and calibration work that my focus changed to what I can bring back to the teacher to improve his or her practice”
“The purpose for evidence in the first place was to back up professional judgment,” said Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzell. “This is really about the professional conversations that take place between educators and their supervisors, working together to make the experience better for kids.”
The Wolcott administrators said that to change their focus it was first essential to have a strong understanding of the evaluation rubric. They have now been able to talk together about the observation process, discuss the best way to see how students are mastering the material, and have conversations about the rubric to come to a common district understanding of their evaluation plan.
“There’s a desperate need for professional learning for leaders on what good evaluation looks like,” said PEAC member and Meriden Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Miguel Cardona. He said that collaboration time for everyone, including administrators, is essential for a successful public education system.
Cohen said that districts who are succeeding with educator evaluation are doing so because they’re collaborating, while other districts are only “focusing on getting to a number.”
Cardona said that when PEAC has heard directly from education practitioners at its meetings they often want to focus on what is going well with teacher evaluation. “The reality is, there are a lot of things they’re struggling with that maybe we can listen to and help them with,” he said.
The State Department of Education is planning support with educator evaluation through a variety of professional learning opportunities, a second offering of the Connecticut Academy for Professional Learning, and district-level grants of up to $25,000 to transform professional learning systems.