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Manchester school officials back proposed evaluation system

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 30. 2014 7:36PM

MANCHESTER - City school officials are defending a proposed teacher evaluation system that would give "ineffective" educators up to three years to improve before facing termination and make "student growth" count for no more than 8 percent of an individual teacher's score.

The revised evaluation system was endorsed by the school board's Curriculum and Instruction Committee on Tuesday, and is expected to go before the full board at its next meeting.

The system was developed in consultation with several "stakeholders," according to Superintendent Debra Livingston. "The MEA has been at the table," she said, referring to the teachers union. "The principals organization, administrators, instructional specialists."

Livingston said the revised teacher evaluation system was meant to respond to feedback on the one implemented two years ago.

"We wanted to see what's working and what's not," she said. "We're trying to help teachers improve. We also recognize when you hire a teacher, it's an investment . we're hiring someone who's going to continually improve over time."

State and federal education officials in recent years have pushed for more rigorous teacher evaluation systems and to link them to student performance. Teacher unions have criticized the linkage to test scores as unfair, especially for teachers who work with marginal students.

Last fall, the state Department of Education's Task Force on Effective Teaching issued its second report outlining recommendations for districts to develop teacher evaluation programs.

The report noted that New Hampshire has a strong tradition of school board control. "The Task Force wrestled with respecting this strong local control orientation while providing a clear vision and practical approach for implementing educator evaluation systems," the report noted.

But Manchester has less leeway than other districts in how it regards the so-called State Model proposed by the task force, because approximately a third of its schools are recipients of federal "school improvement grants" or Title I funding.

The report notes that the waiver the state has received from the No Child Left Behind Act "requires that all NH Title I schools implement an educator evaluation system aligned with the State Model System."

After school board approval, Manchester's teacher evaluation system would be reviewed by the state Board of Education, Livingston said.

The task force "strongly recommends" that districts use statewide assessment tests in measuring student growth, including the new Smarter Balanced test set to be implemented in the spring.

The report states that "Student Learning Objectives" (SLO) - learning goals established by teachers and administrators - can be used for "subjects and grades where state achievement data are not available."

The student growth component of Manchester's new teacher evaluation system relies exclusively on SLOs. According to the proposed system, student growth would count for 20 percent of evaluations, with performance in meeting SLO targets determined for a team of teachers and schoolwide in the in the first year the program is implemented.

In the next year, individual teachers would also be assessed for SLO performance, which would count for 40 percent of the student growth score, while team and school performance would count for another 40 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

A teacher would be judged "ineffective" in the student growth category if fewer than 40 percent of students meet the SLO target.

The other categories in the evaluation - planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction and professional responsibility - would be assessed on the basis of yearly "mini-observations."Teachers determined to be ineffective would be placed on an "improvement track" that would last two to three years.

If there isn't sufficient improvement, a recommendation would be made to not renew the teacher's contract. The current evaluation system gives such teachers six to 10 months to improve.

Ward 8 school board member Erika Connors, the chairman of the curriculum committee, noted that the new system increases the number of observations a teacher would have.

"It lengthens the process (before termination), but gives teachers more feedback, as opposed to letting them sit in that position, and works on an improvement plan with them," she said.

As for using student performance on assessment tests in evaluating teachers, Connors noted that the district is still seeking a waiver from using the Smarter Balanced test in the spring. "I don't think it's fair to judge based on an assessment test when we don't know if we have one," she said.

The new evaluation system was released the same week that a tentative agreement was reached with the teachers union on a new multi-year contract. It's not known if the evaluation system was part of the negotiations. The agreement must still go before the general membership of the union.

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