published Monday, November 1st, 2010

10-minute model speeds teacher-evaluation process


by Kelli Gauthier
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    Staff Photo by Angela Lewis/Chattanooga Times Free Press Oct 28, 2010--Principal Jill Levine, left, and Lower School site principal Haley Brown share notes while observing classrooms at Normal Park Lower School on Thursday.

On her cell phone, Jill Levine has saved a photo of a mammoth stack of papers, more than a foot high.

It's a pile of every teacher evaluation she had to fill out last year, a reminder of the tedious process that, as principal of Normal Park Museum Magnet School, she was required to complete for each teacher on both campuses of the North Chattanooga school.

"Each one was 35 pages long!" she said.

Until this year.

Part of the recent legislation ushered in by Tennessee's Race to the Top win included an overhaul of the state's teacher evaluation system. Gone are the days when a tenured teacher was evaluated once every five years; gone are nearly hourlong classroom observations in which principals wrote down every word a teacher said.

Also gone are the massive amounts of paperwork.

In their place is what many Hamilton County principals are saying is a much more streamlined process in which they evaluate each teacher every year through a series of 10 observations, each 10 minutes long.

As a bonus, they can type feedback directly into a Web-based application that teachers can access to provide responses and to see their evaluation scores on specific criteria.

"The focus is so much less on paperwork and compliance and more on principals seeing what's going on in classrooms," said Levine, who travels from classroom to classroom at Normal Park, typing observations on her iPad and submitting them wirelessly.

Hamilton County's new evaluation system is among a handful of options being piloted this year around the state. A 15-member committee, on which Levine serves, will then take feedback and create a new state evaluation model to go into effect next school year.

Sixty-eight of Hamilton County's 80 schools have chosen to participate in the pilot; the others decided to stick with the old method for this year.

In the first quarter of the school year, principals have logged 3,916 teacher observations -- more than the total number of evaluations completed last year under the old system, according to Connie Atkins, associate superintendent for human resources.

Because of the number of observations that principals now must complete, there has been concern that the process will be too time-consuming for administrators.

But a principal who completes two or three observations every day should be able to complete them all, said Robert Alford, principal of Hunter Middle School.

Alford said he also shares the observation responsibility with his two assistant principals.

Unlike the previous evaluations, the new observations are unannounced. Teachers say the new process is much less formal, and, because they don't know when an administrator is stopping by, they can't stress about putting on a show.

"You fluff it up if you know it's going to happen," said Normal Park first-grade teacher Megan Methvin.

Methvin, who is eligible for tenure this year, said Levine or Assistant Principal Haley Brown have been in her classroom seven times already this year.

Levine said she appreciates being in classrooms more often because she's even better acquainted with what's going on in her school.

"We get to see more of the really great teaching that's happening," she said. "A good teacher hears they're good much more often."

And while the new process is meant to foster greater collaboration and coaching, it is also meant to improve teacher quality around the state. More than one-third of the state's teachers rank as a one or two on a five-point scale of effectiveness, state reports show.

Officials hope the increased level of observation and feedback will help improve those statistics.

"None of us want to fire our way out of this," Ava Warren, the district's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said Thursday during a presentation at the Hamilton County Board of Education meeting.

about Kelli Gauthier...

Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...

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chattreb said...

This is very good news. Teacher's evaluation paperwork on top of their everyday paperwork was a terrible burden and needed to be changed. The evaluation process was the reason I left teaching after 30 years. I had given my professional life to the education of special students and the system killed my motivation with all the requirements of an unnecessarily burdening evaluation process. Maybe now the local teachers can do the job they are meant to do, be educators instead of admin. clerks. Wish the state would have done this two years ago. I might still be doing what I was meant to do.

November 1, 2010 at 3:50 a.m.
OldSchool said...

I'm glad we're now "racing to the top" in education. Thank goodness for Mississippi we're not at the bottom. A teacher needs to be able to teach like they used to do. Everyone wants to "fix education" because... 1. Teachers can't publicly defend themselves and are sitting ducks for politicians. 2. Politicians can't read 1950's education laws, such as those for attendance and discilpline and bring them up to today's standards. The average cost of discilpline in an average Tennessee high school is between $200,00.00 and $300,00.00(conservatively)... 3-4 Assistant Principals, an ISS teacher and classroom facilities, Alternative schools and transportation, security systems and cameras, 1-2 security officers, time spent in courts for such things as "tobacco violations", and of course, lawyers' fees and insurance! If you had seen that lady's photo of her stack of discilpline forms you would have to have had a wide angle photograph! The 1960's average cost of discilpline was about nothing... the amount of time it took from a day at school to swing a paddle 3 times on the first day of school. 3. Oh well, lastly, maybe the reason we're doing such a bad job in education is because we're being compared to who? Tennessee doesn't have a state income tax, we're pretty self efficient and aren't nearly in as much debt as other states' residents. When it comes to evaluations, we need to be thankful for a person who went to college for four years, took a pay cut, loves their job, works well beyond normal work hours, spends their own time and money on helping needy kids, and then only lasts an average of 4-5 years on the job.

November 6, 2010 at 12:03 p.m.
OldSchool said...

Why did I say 4-5 years average career life of a teacher above? STRESS! If you don't know what a teacher does after fours years of college in preparing, five years of waiting(teaching) during a Probational Teacher License term, then something is wrong. The sad thing here is that the evaluation tool is being used as a means of age descrimination. Older teachers use "Old School" teaching strategies and methods. Nothing is done to help them stay updated, except one day in-service training sessions. An investment in our teachers by allowing them to sit in on an education class at a local college once every five years would be a wise investment. Our state colleges, and local businesses and industries do that for their employees.

November 6, 2010 at 12:35 p.m.
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