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Four Education Experts Take a Hard Look at New Teacher Evaluation System

Panelists at tonight's discussion of teacher evaluation: Lisa Bress

Panelists at tonight’s forum on teacher evaluation: Lisa Bress, Windsor; Ann Langley, Bridgeport; Bryan Ripley Crandall, Fairfield University; Suzanne Wilson, UConn.

Connecticut’s new teacher evaluation system is a work in progress, and, if it is to succeed, then policymakers must aggressively solicit feedback from teachers, make continuous improvements, and take the time necessary to make meaningful changes.

That was the message delivered by public school teachers Lisa Bress of Windsor and Ann Langley of Bridgeport at a forum—sponsored by the Connecticut Mirror news organization—tonight at Fairfield University. The teachers were on a four-person panel that also included Bryan Ripley Crandall of Fairfield University and Suzanne Wilson of UConn’s Neag School of Education.

Wilson, who studies teacher assessment and evaluation around the country, said, “There is a lot we can learn from the innovation side of business, but what is trickling down into schools is not that. It’s the gutting of its soul.”

She said paperwork, busywork, and the need to walk in lockstep are pulling teachers toward simple compliance and away from “the core” of public education, which is teaching and learning.

Wilson said that teaching and learning is dynamic and not something that can be done via a recipe or script. “It’s situated and contextualized work that requires constant adaptation,” she said.

Wilson expressed optimism that Connecticut can work toward a successful new teacher evaluation system if it “acts nimbly and keeps its eye on the prize.” The prize, of course, is a teacher evaluation system that focuses on improving teaching and learning, rather than paperwork and bureaucratic compliance.

Langley said evaluation and professional development should be inextricably linked, but— in the past—teacher evaluation, for too many teachers, has not been about meaningful professional development or about opportunities to discuss how to improve their schools. With Connecticut’s new teacher evaluation system being implemented this year, Bress and Langley indicated that educators’ priority in Connecticut is that teacher evaluation can finally become a catalyst for professional growth.

Langley said, “My district participated in the pilot last year of the state evaluation system—before this year’s statewide rollout—but has moved away from the state-prescribed model. We spent all our time filling out paperwork—administrators and teachers alike.”

This year, Langley said she’s encouraged because problems with the new system are being acknowledged. “We have morphed our plan to meet our district’s needs.”

Bress said she’s encouraged because feedback is being invited in her district, but she worries that too many people are leaving the profession in the state. “If we want to continue to have quality people choose this profession,  we need to treat them as professionals,” she said.

Bress said it’s hard for principals to be instructional leaders when they have so much paperwork to do. Bress, who teaches in a district that participated in the state’s pilot last year, credited her district with doing systemic professional development about participating in the new evaluation system. However, the problem was that teachers were being evaluated at the same time they were still trying to understand the new system, according to Bress.

Bress said, “Every teacher I meet is looking for substantive feedback about how to improve her/his practice. I agree with Ann: the principal is a guide, but what really matters is collaboration with teaching colleagues.”

Crandall has been a public school classroom teacher and trains teachers today at Fairfield University. He said he’s observed a belittling of the teaching profession in recent years as policymakers have focused excessively on standardized tests. They’ve expected urban educators to “move mountains” without regard for obstacles that teachers often face.

Langley commented that teachers are too often left out of the decision-making process in their schools, and that’s a concern that should be addressed. “The biggest resource that’s been left out is teachers themselves,” she said.

To watch the complete CT Mirror panel discussion, click here.

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