“It’s extremely helpful to hear from the pilot districts as we all plan for implementing the new evaluation guidelines next year,” said Shelton High School Principal Beth Smith. The sentiment was shared by the other members of the Connecticut Advisory Councils for Administrator and Teacher Professional Standards who gathered recently for a joint meeting.
The advisory council members heard from their colleagues in Bridgeport, Litchfield, Region 6, and Waterford about their experiences piloting the System for Educator Evaluation and Development (SEED) so far this year. The districts have had some very different experiences implementing SEED, but there were a number of commonalities.
Wamogo Regional High School Principal William Egan acknowledged his Region 6 district is quite small and has different challenges than many districts in the state, but said that the new evaluation system has “changed the way we see teaching in our building. It’s much more student centered.”
“The sheer number of observations is the most problematic part,” he continued.
Litchfield High School Principal Kristen Della Volpe agreed. “Time is the issue — it’s been arduous,” she said. “But on the other hand, teachers in our building definitely feel more valued. I’ve had teachers tell me it helps them to really focus.”
Lynn Rice, president of the Litchfield Education Association and a Litchfield High English teacher, said she was not a fan of the new evaluation system at the beginning of the year. However, she now finds she is “becoming an even better teacher given what my student learning objectives are.”
Rice says that a district’s success with implementing the evaluation plan depends largely on where they’re starting from. In Litchfield, the district’s previous evaluation system shared similarities with SEED. “We’ve been doing SMART goals and using the Danielson Framework for Educator Evaluation for a number of years, so it was natural for us to move in this direction.”
She continued, “People say, ‘Oh, you’re rural,’ but we only have two administrators and no department chairs — so two administrators times six observations times 50+ teachers… It is different for urbans, rurals, and suburbans, but there are some challenges we all share. There are too many observations.”
Della Volpe said that she evaluates 26 teachers and “I would love to have that be my only job, but I also have to be a building leader.”
Ann Langley, Bridgeport’s evaluation mediator and TEAM coordinator said, “The professional dialogue between teachers and administrators is so important, but it’s so time-consuming. Urban administrators don’t have that time. They need to run their schools and they have so many fires to put out.”
Bristol elementary principal Rosie O’Brien Vojtek asked, “What is really realistic? I’m responsible for 400 kids and 30 teachers. Thirty teachers times six observations is 180. We have 181 days in our school year, so I’ll have one day to do everything else.”
She continued, “I’m thinking about what else I could do. I’m not ready to retire, but I’m one person and I can’t do it all.”
The amount of paperwork required by the evaluation plan has also been an issue for the pilot districts.
Egan said, “There’s certainly a problem with the forms, a ton of forms are required. We’re probably are going to look at a different data management system for next year.”
Langley said, “Principals have three-ring binders for every teacher. It’s just too much.”
Waterford Federation of Teachers President Martha Shoemaker said that she has 25 pages of just her own evaluation forms, her administrator has another 25-30 pages on her, and she has only had one formal and one informal observation so far this year.
Shoemaker said that she asked her administrator one day, “Are you building a new room? Where are you going to file all of the forms when they come in in June?” She added, “It’s got to be simplified in some way to get results with less stress. The forms should be saved on a nice hard drive somewhere.”
East Hartford Education Association President Karen O’Connell said that a teacher from Windsor, which is a pilot district, presented to East Hartford teachers recently and said that they are spending more time on forms than on preparing for instruction. “That disturbs me greatly,” O’Connell said, “because the instruction is what really matters.”
Rice said that teachers in her local found a lot of time was taken up by filling out forms during the goal setting process. “But now that our goals are in place, the goals are about student achievement and that is what planning is about,” she said. “Has it consumed people in a way? Yes. In a bad way? The jury’s still out on that. Next year is going to be the year to see if this is really going to work.”
Selecting a model
Most districts that participated in the evaluation pilot chose to use the SEED model this year. It requires six observations, three formal and three informal for all teachers.
The state guidelines, which districts can use to develop their own model, require at least three formal observations for first and second year teachers as well as for those rated developing or below standard in a previous year. The guidelines require one formal observation plus at least two more other observations/reviews of practice for teachers previously rated proficient or exemplary.
CEA Policy Director Linette Branham said that while districts can develop hybrid plans, the need for flexibility in the guidelines must be addressed for implementation to be successful. “We need to commit to taking the time to get this right, rather than throwing out the baby with the bath water,” she said.
The pilot districts that attended the recent advisory council meeting all said that they are planning to modify their evaluation plans for next year and will not continue to use the SEED model exactly as written.
Quinnipiac Associate Professor of Education Gary Alger cautioned, “Even if an administrator can spend six hours in a teacher’s classroom, they’re witnessing less than one percent of what that teacher does — especially when you consider that some of a teacher’s most important work is evaluating student work and planning lessons.”
Alger said that for this model to work, districts would need one evaluator for every four teachers.
No one mentioned learning. Did students benefit?
The educators from Litchfield said they felt the new evaluation system has helped focus their teaching and improve student learning, whereas the Bridgeport educators worried the paperwork was taking time away from preparing for instruction. All agreed that it’s still a work in progress and whether students benefit remains to be seen.