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PEAC Looks to Waiver Districts, Considers Increased Flexibility

Weston Superintendent Colleen Palmer shared her districts teacher evaluatoin plan with PEAC members.

Weston Superintendent Colleen Palmer shared her district’s teacher evaluation plan with PEAC members.

When it comes to compliance with the state teacher evaluation guidelines, some districts are in a class by themselves. These are the school districts that developed locally grown evaluation plans that didn’t entirely comply with state guidelines and then received “waivers” from the SDE to implement them.

Weston and LEARN are two examples. And they’ve caught the attention of the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC).

PEAC is considering additional ways to increase flexibility to districts and, at a meeting Thursday, members heard from districts in Connecticut that are already provided greater flexibility in their teacher evaluation plans.

Districts that have received waivers from the state Department of Education have flexibility from certain parts of the state guidelines as long as they adhere to a set of guiding principles. Shannon Marimón, division director for the state Department of Education bureau that oversees teacher evaluation, said that teacher evaluation plans from Weston and LEARN both allow for “a more holistic approach to scoring and thinking about the weightings of the components.”

Weston superintendent Colleen Palmer told PEAC members that flexibility is key because a teacher evaluation plan that works in one district might not be right for another. “Every district has its own DNA, its own culture,” she said.

Palmer said that teachers are the backbone of the district and that the success of a teacher evaluation plan hinges on collaboration and trust among all stakeholder groups. “Our approach is to have a plan that embraces teachers’ work and that doesn’t have a sense of fear, or a ‘gotcha’ environment, because people don’t thrive that way,” she said.

CEA Executive Director Mark Waxenberg said, “The collaborative development of the tool is essential so that there is buy-in by all.”

Weston’s teacher evaluation plan allows evaluators to make professional judgments in determining holistic ratings for teachers informed by “a preponderance of evidence based on multiple sources of data.”

“Data do not make judgments—professionals do,” Palmer said.

Weston is only now searching for an online tool to manage teacher evaluation data, unlike many districts that started out looking at the new teacher evaluation guidelines through a data management software lens.

PEAC member Miguel Cardona, Meriden assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, said he sees stepping back from data management software as a positive. He said too many districts have worked backwards from a product they purchased rather than allowing data management systems to support the district’s own fully-developed vision.

“When you don’t have an online system, you’re better able to inject that judgment piece more naturally,” Cardona said. “When you have an online system, it’s very formulaic.”

“We’re too focused on the process and not on the product,” said Waxenberg. “The data, the data, the data—it’s got to be the right balance.”

Administrators from the LEARN Regional Educational Service Center also stressed the importance of a holistic vision, relationships, and trust in talking about their administrator evaluation plan.

“You need to engage your teachers and principals in the work. You need to have good relationships with folks who can come forward and do the work together,” said LEARN Executive Director Eileen Howley. “That’s when it becomes more effective.”

PEAC members hope to use what they learn from districts who have received waivers to help shape increased flexibility for all districts.

Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzell said that the weighting and matrix in the current evaluation guidelines aren’t serving any districts well. “I don’t talk to anybody that’s happy with those aspects, so maybe we should prioritize that,” she said.

“We’ve required people to get waivers because we’ve been formulaic,” Waxenberg said. “The quicker we can get to the weighting and how we can give flexibility, the better.”

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