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PEAC Considers Allowing Increased Flexibility for Local Districts

CEA President Sheila Cohen told PEAC members

CEA President Sheila Cohen told PEAC members that more flexibility and autonomy is needed for local districts.

As teachers around the state are writing, emailing, and calling their legislators, asking them to pass a bill to permanently decouple SBAC from their evaluations, the committee that advises the State Board of Education on educator evaluations is still meeting to discuss revisions to other parts of the evaluation guidelines.

At a meeting earlier this month, the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) recommended putting off the use of SBAC scores in teacher evaluations for another year. CEA leaders said this delay is essentially kicking the can down the road as students and teachers deserve a permanent decision on SBAC’s use in evaluations.

This week, PEAC discussed other pieces of the evaluation system—including the number of performance designators required to rate educators and the percentages allocated to different evaluation components.

PEAC members CEA President Sheila Cohen and Executive Director Mark Waxenberg said that the current 1 to 4 rating system isn’t working in some locals. CEA supports requiring a minimum of two performance designators.

“We’re finding the current four are creating divisiveness within ranks of certain teaching locals and inhibiting sharing and collaboration,” Waxenberg said. “Requiring a minimum of two doesn’t preclude a district from having three, or even eight.”

“In large urban districts the current four designators tend to work a little better, but we also have locals that have nine teachers in them,” Cohen said. “Are we at the state level determining what is going to be a state evaluation system, or are we going to allow flexibility and autonomy for the local district and what works for the culture of that local?”

Cohen added, “Evaluations are supposed to better your practice—enhance your practice, thereby making the student the bottom line, not whether or not you are rated ‘exemplary.'”

Some PEAC members said that requiring only two designators wouldn’t allow teachers the opportunity to show growth or be recognized for excellence.

“We’re not advocating a binary system, we’re suggesting a minimum of two,” Waxenberg said. “We’re not going to dictate to a local how to have its teaching core grow. For us to develop four names and categories and send them out there and think that that will have magical results—that’s not going to happen. I have tremendous faith in local districts, local superintendents, and local boards of education to do what’s best for their local, their citizenry, and their students. They need to abide by standards we develop here, not boxes we have them check off.”

Miguel Cardona, Meriden assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, said he’s concerned about it becoming a rating and sorting system. “The perception of that can be a real obstacle to growth, and potentially lead to a gaming of systems—not too many 3s, not too many 2s. That’s where we lose track of the purpose of this.”

“We know no one gets better with a number on a system,” said Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzell. “Teachers get better with feedback, that’s the really critical component.”

Weighting Evaluation Components

There was more agreement among PEAC members about the need to move away from a rigid system of percentages assigned to different components of teacher evaluation, though there was also agreement that more research and dialogue would be needed.

In recent years, many states have moved away from rigid evaluation systems, instead allowing local districts more flexibility to assign their own percentages to evaluation components.

Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents Executive Director Joe Cirasuolo said there needs to be local flexibility on component percentages. “The more you start talking about numbers, the more you’re taking human behavior and putting a number on it—and that can cause all sorts of problems,” he said.

Waxenberg reminded PEAC members that CEA proposed new evaluation guidelines this January that substantially simplify the required percentages and promote student learning.

“Either you’re going to give flexibility to the locals or we’re going to micromanage them within a certain percentage on a matrix, which we’re absolutely opposed to,” Waxenberg said. “There are some errors and omissions that have taken place since 2012. I think we should learn from those.”

At their next meeting on April 21, PEAC members plan to hear from districts that have received waivers to implement evaluation plans that do not follow the state guidelines.

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