The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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December 8, 2012

Districts try new teacher measure

State yardstick being phased in

MERCER COUNTY — The state has targeted student performance in recent years, and now it’s the teachers’ turn.

Starting in 2013-2014, all school districts in Pennsylvania must use a more comprehensive educator effectiveness system that will require a lot more time and work from everyone involved.

Two Mercer County school districts are being phased into the new program this year and leaders are looking at it as a positive way to promote learning and ensure accountability.

“I think it’s a great thing. It’s better than what we have,” said Leonard Rich, Sharon High School principal and assistant to the superintendent.

Staff at Sharon City and Sharpsville Area school districts are learning the ropes and in January start using the model to evaluate teachers. They were chosen to be among the first districts after being awarded federal Race to the Top funds – Sharon got $60,000 and Sharpsville got $14,000 – part of which goes toward implementing the new system.

Sharon Superintendent John Sarandrea said 10 percent of Sharon’s teachers will be evaluated under the new system before June. Half will be assessed next school. Every teacher has to be assessed once every three years.

“It’s new. I think it’s probably a good thing when it’s all said and done. There’s obviously a lot of anxiety, a lot of growing pains and a lot of unknowns,” said Sharpsville Superintendent Mark Ferrara.

 Rich said there’s a 10-step process to each evaluation which includes classroom visits, questionnaires and conferences. It will take 2 to 3 hours per employee over the course of several days to do each one, he said.

“It’s significantly more work,” said Ferrara, who said the grant funds are being used to train people on the new system and for reporting software.

Rich said any instructor who gets an unsatisfactory or failing mark will then work on an improvement plan with administrators.

“This is not a gotcha system,” Rich said. “That’s not the intent. It’s designed to provide support for improvement.”

Under the new system, 50 percent of the evaluation will be from observation of planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction and professionalism.

“The first 50 percent we already do,” said Jeff DeJulia, principal at C.M. Musser Elementary.

This is the way most districts gauge teacher performance now, but the new system brings in test scores. Fifteen percent of the score will be based on building data already measured by the state and 15 percent will be from teacher-specific data, which factors in student growth, not just pass-fail rates.

“I think the data piece is good, but it doesn’t deserve any more weight than what it’s getting,” Sarandrea said.

The use of data is what has folks nervous about the change, DeJulia said. Sarandrea noted that it’ll take a few years for there to be longitudinal data for some teachers and those in certain subjects that aren’t tested will be judged solely on the scores in the buildings where they spend most of their time.

“No teacher will ever escape the building data,” Rich said.

The remaining 20 percent of the evaluation will come from processes determined by the districts, such as portfolios and board certifications.

Ferrara said they hope it will benefit teachers and students in and out of the classroom.

Personnel in other districts are also learning about the system they’ll be using next school year.

“It makes good sense,” said Mercer Superintendent Dr. William Gathers of the model and the uniform state system. “I think we all want people to be held accountable for what they do.”

Currently, it takes two consecutive unsatisfactory ratings “and a lot more” to dismiss a  teacher, Sarandrea said. The new statewide system, which will override any contractual agreements about evaluation, will make it possible to fire a teacher that gets two such scores at any point within 10 years, even in more than one district.

Rich noted that private and charter schools do not have to adhere to the new system.

The teacher effectiveness tool will be implemented across the state in 2013-2014 and a similar principal evaluation system will be put in effect in 2014-2015.

Currently, the federal guidelines only apply to instructional teachers, not staff like nurses or guidance counselors.

The program was piloted in 2010-2011 in three districts and one intermediate unit and the Gates Foundation provided an $800,000 grant to develop the project statewide.


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