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November 20. 2013 10:39PM

In Nashua, a new era for teacher evaluation

NASHUA — School officials have spent a lot of time looking at more effective ways to evaluate students, and they are also looking at a new way to evaluate teachers.

Superintendent Mark Conrad and Nashua High School South art teacher Robin Peringer met with the Board of Education’s Human Resources Committee on Wednesday to report on an ongoing teacher evaluation pilot program involving 50 teachers. While more detailed evaluations that include student test scores and other assessments are required for schools districts that received federal school funding, Conrad said the new evaluations are more about helping teachers become better educators.

Under the current system, administrators and teachers agree on a date and time when principals will visit a classroom for about 40 minutes. Principals then provide each teacher with a narrative evaluation and possibly some suggestions on how to improve.

Under that type of system, which Conrad called a dog and pony show, most teachers, nationwide, have been rated highly effective.

But with the new system now being developed, principals and other evaluators will make six short unannounced visits to classrooms to observe teachers. And rather than recording their ideas and impressions, evaluators will use a rubric that defines standards and performance levels. Teachers will receive a numerical score — 1, 2, 3 or 4 — for every three-year evaluation period.

“The concern about inflation, where every teacher is rated exemplary, is going to change,” said Conrad. “More teachers will be rated ‘effective.’ There’s going to be some sticker shock.”

Conrad said Nashua schools have very few teachers who would score at the low end.

“If someone is at a 1, they have a period of time to improve, usually one or two years,” he said. “If they don’t improve, they will face nonrenewal of their contract.”

The rubric, which is similar to a scorecard, will allow evaluators to rate teachers on specific areas of job performance, such as classroom management and lesson plans. BOE members felt it provided a clear sense of expectations.

“The rubric will help teachers understand what we define as good teaching skills,” said BOE member Robert Haas, who is chairman of the Human Resources Committee.

BOE member Kimberly Muise questioned the amount of time involved and whether principals and assistant principals will have enough time to visit each classroom six times.

Both Conrad and Peringer said more manpower would be needed for the new system. One possibility may be to hire a teaching supervisor who focuses exclusively on evaluating teachers. Peer observations, or teachers observing one another, may be another option.

There will be larger pilot evaluation program involving more teachers next year as the committee that is working on designing the new system continues to work through the details.

Training for evaluators will also be part of the new system.

“We want to teach evaluators to have the right conversations with teachers,” he said. “It’s not what you’re doing wrong, it’s what you can do to improve.”

Conrad said most people don’t realize that teachers are the toughest critics on themselves.

Peringer said that’s why teachers who are in the pilot program like what the new evaluations offer.

“You want teachers to take responsibility for their own growth,’ she said.


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