Is Connecticut’s new teacher evaluation system being implemented effectively? Should there be regional efforts to boost the system’s chances of success? And are there improvements that need to be made in the next session of the Connecticut General Assembly?
These are some of the questions being quietly studied by a small legislative subcommittee with a big reach. It’s called MORE Commission and it is charged with coming up with regional solutions to today’s pressing issues.
More’s Education subcommittee met this morning in Hartford. The working group heard how the evaluation system is progressing in school districts in Windsor and Litchfield, and what must be done to improve upon it, including allowing more flexibility, more training, and a greater focus on teaching and learning, not paperwork.
“It can’t be a gottcha system,” said Debra Wheeler, superintendent of Litchfield Public Schools. And it can’t be “a cookie cutter format,” Wheeler continued. “We need more flexibility than the Connecticut guidelines provide.”
Windsor teacher and CEA Professional Issues Coordinator Lisa Bress said the new evaluation system is an extremely time-consuming process, one that some educators feel distracts them from their ability to spend ample time with their students in the classroom. “We need to focus on improving teaching and learning rather than paperwork and compliance,” said Bress.
Subcommittee member Representative Chris Davis, agreed, “We want our teachers focusing on teaching and students not on documentation.”
“To make continuous improvements, we need to hear the voices of the teachers impacted by the plan, and take time without penalty to make necessary improvements and provide additional resources,” said Bress.
Training and evaluation
The state model requires a three-hour orientation process for teachers, but both Litchfield and Windsor provided additional training. Wheeler said her district spent a tremendous amount of time in the goal-setting process so teachers could understand what is expected of them and how they would be evaluated. She recommends districts “spend more than the allotted time helping teachers understand the process.”
Bress said her school district took extra steps during last year’s pilot program, including providing eight days of training, and other initiatives to make sure teachers felt trained and comfortable. Despite the district’s best efforts, implementation was still fraught with problems.
“We were being evaluated during a pilot period using a system that hadn’t fully been implemented or had the bugs worked out yet,” said Bress. This year is better, according to Bress, but she feels bad for districts that didn’t participate in the pilot. “They are being evaluated while learning the system and that’s stressful and counterproductive. There should be a moratorium on punitive aspects of evaluation while teachers are given the opportunity to learn in a pilot year. That would be a benefit going forward.”
Bress said the new system lends itself to the TEAM or coaching model, and, in her district, she met with teachers on a weekly basis to collaborate and discuss differentiated instruction and how to meet goals and provide professional development that will help teachers improve their practice.
Bress and others suggested a regional pool of available complementary evaluators that districts could tap into to reduce the burden on districts and principals. Bress said there’s a big difference between a coach and an evaluator, and she doesn’t believe in having colleagues be complementary evaluators. Instead, she suggested using retired teachers or other qualified and trained evaluators.
The subcommittee will consider today’s recommendations and will create a list of education issues it will present to the legislature next year.