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Teacher Evaluation: Focus Back on PEAC

CEA President Sheila Cohen underscored the need for improvements to teacher evaluation at a recent PEAC meeting.

CEA President Sheila Cohen underscored the need for improvements to teacher evaluation at a recent PEAC meeting.

Educators got a sneak preview this week into what’s ahead for the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC).

CEA is one of many public education stakeholders who sit on the advisory group that makes suggestions to the State Board of Education on teacher evaluation.

Although the group has not met in months, officials from the State Department of Education (SDE) say they are committed to four meetings in the year ahead. Topics on the meeting agendas will range from descriptors of teacher and administrator performance to ongoing calibration of evaluators to training and support.

At Monday’s meeting, SDE officials discussed how they are putting the finishing touches on Connecticut’s NCLB waiver application. They confirmed that they are asking Washington for flexibility, so that the state test (SBAC) will not be incorporated into teacher/administrator evaluations through at least the 2015-16 school year.

SDE officials acknowledged at Monday’s meeting that there are many “challenges” with incorporating the state test into teacher evaluations.

Add to that the fact that the new teacher evaluation system is in its infancy, and it becomes apparent that the state must examine many issues before plowing ahead.

CEA President Sheila Cohen and Executive Director Mark Waxenberg underscored the need for improvements to teacher evaluation to ensure that it is a fair, valid, and reliable process. At the meeting, they said that PEAC needs to have a serious conversation about the excessive burden the evaluation system places on both teachers and administrators.

CEA Policy Director Linette Branham has worked closely with Professional Development and Evaluation Committees (PDECs) in many districts around the state. She said that, despite requirements that all evaluators receive training, “We have a lot of teachers out there who are really questioning whether their evaluators went to training of any kind. There’s a lot of inconsistency even within buildings.”

In many districts, administrators are stretched thin trying to conduct all of the required educator evaluations. CREC Executive Director Bruce Douglas said that teachers trained as complimentary evaluators have worked out well for his district, relieving the burden on administrators. “We don’t have enough administrators to implement teacher evaluation effectively,” he said.

Cohen said, “Although the complimentary evaluator concept may be working well for one constituency group, it very well may not be working well for all groups.”

CEA Executive Director Mark Waxenberg said that it’s absolutely true that administrators don’t have time to do all the required evaluations. “Have we as a body [PEAC] created such a bureaucracy, such a long list of things for these administrators to do, that it forces us to look for alternatives — such as teachers evaluating teachers — and consider that a good thing? I don’t know if that’s a good thing; I only know that we’ve created a system that requires it.”

“There are some things in the system right now that have caused it to become very burdensome on administrators and on teachers,” Branham said. “What it really comes down to, from what I see and hear, is that very few people understand what the state guidelines for teacher evaluation actually require.”

Branham said that some people confuse the state evaluation model — known as the System for Educator Evaluation and Development (SEED) — with the evaluation guidelines. Districts must use the guidelines to develop their evaluation plan but do not have to use SEED. Branham also said some educators don’t understand how to access flexibility that does exist in the guidelines because the language is long and filled with jargon.

As PEAC considers any proposal to modify the evaluation guidelines going forward, Waxenberg said that, rather than operating by consensus as PEAC has done in the past, the council must operate by majority vote. “Consensus to me is the antithesis of the democratic process where one person can negate the will of the whole body,” Waxenberg said.

PEAC will take up the matter of how the council comes to decisions, as well as other matters, at its next meeting in June.

Click here for the many teacher evaluation resources CEA offers.

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