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Cleveland Plain Dealer...
Ohio teachers to be watched and graded on classroom performance… and many are OK with that January 4, 2012 

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Teachers across Ohio should expect a lot more criticism of their classroom work in the next few years. 

Their principals will be in their classrooms more. Or their assistant principals, or even outside evaluators, all watching them, taking notes and essentially grading the teachers. 

Don’t expect glowing reviews either, or the perfunctory check mark in the column marked “Satisfactory.” Each teacher will be graded as Accomplished, Effective, Developing or Ineffective and some will even be fired if they don’t improve their marks over time. 

“It’s going to take a little bit of adjustment for some people,” said Deb Tully, director of professional issues for the Ohio Federation of Teachers, one of the two large teachers unions in the state. “I don’t know a lot of people who want to be told they’re doing just OK when they put their heart and soul into it.” 

But teachers aren’t complaining much -- not about this part of their new state-required evaluations, at least. They see potential for the classroom observation, and the coaching and feedback that should follow, as a chance for constructive criticism, not just judgments. 

That’s what state officials say they want to happen. Tom Gunlock, vice president of the Ohio Board of Education, said the teacher evaluation framework the board passed in November, and which will be used statewide by the 2013-14 school year, is meant to find the strengths and weaknesses of teachers and help teachers improve their weak areas. 

“Everyone thinks this is a cut and dried attempt to fire teachers,” Gunlock said. “That is the least of our desires here.” 

Even the OFT says some teachers may be fired deservedly - if they’re poor teachers and don’t improve after coaching. 

“If they document that someone truly doesn’t get better, I’m totally comfortable with that,” Tully said. “Kids in the classroom deserve the best teachers we can get for them.” 

The plan leaves a lot of leeway to local districts, but sets a basic framework all must follow. 

State law passed last year requires measures of student academic growth, like standardized tests and the Value Added measure, to make up 50 percent of a teacher’s rating. The state board is still working on what tests it can use along with the Ohio Achievement Assessment tests now given and how to measure growth in grades and subjects that are not tested. 

Gunlock said he hopes to have a list of measures early next year that districts can use along with Value Added. 

Though those measures draw criticism from teachers, the state plan for the other 50 percent of the rating has much stronger support. 

The board in November required districts to evaluate teachers with at least two 30-minute visits to each classroom each year, in addition to shorter stops in the classroom. It also calls for teachers to be evaluated based on educator standards the state passed in 2005. Those standards were set with input from teachers. 

“Those are things we pretty much agreed make a teacher a good, solid teacher,” said Tully. She also said that longer classroom visits by evaluators are better for teachers than the brief pass-throughs that often occur now.

 But how much weight is given to different factors - like the learning environment a teacher creates or how much a teacher collaborates with others - will be up to districts. 

Gunlock said 139 districts are doing full evaluations of teachers now to test-drive the plan. 

After a district does its own evaluation of a teacher using the observations and the 2005 standards, those results are then used along with the student growth measures to set the teacher’s overall rating. The state has set a matrix for how those two halves must be combined that puts teachers in the highest and lowest designations only if they excel or fail in each half. 

The Cleveland school district is starting its own teacher evaluation plan this year in 23 schools that district chief Eric Gordon says fits within the state plan. Gordon said instead of using a quick checklist that a principal can fill out on a short visit or two, teachers evaluate themselves and principals visit classrooms multiple times, often gathering student work or materials created by the teacher, for a full picture. 

The teacher and administrator will compare evaluations and talk about how they differ. Gordon said the evaluation is meant to go beyond just impressions of an observer. 

“It’s really important that the evaluator find evidence to support claims, rather than just saying it’s my opinion,” Gordon said. “They have to say, ‘I observed this,’ or ‘I collected that.’” 

Though the highest-rated teachers can be observed every two years, all others must be observed yearly. Those observations - and the discussions and coaching that follow - pose a significant challenge, many educators say. 

Principals or assistant principals will need to spend the extra time with each teacher, which adds to their work or cuts into other tasks. Julie Davis, executive director of the Ohio Association of Elementary School Administrators, said principals would love to be in classrooms but their days are often consumed with safety or budget issues, parents, discipline and other daily duties. 

“In reality, as much as they’d like to do this, there are other demands,” Davis said, noting that many districts have already cut assistant principals to save money. “Something has to give here.” 

Gunlock said, however, that the state board considers the classroom more important than other issues principals face. 

“Maybe there’s some other stuff you’re doing, but you have to let other people do it,” he said. 

The state also wants to make sure any evaluator, principal or not, understands the state standards and has some perspective outside their district, so the Ohio Department of Education is requiring every evaluator to be certified. 

That will require each evaluator to take a course over a few days. Gunlock said prospective evaluators will likely watch videotape of a teacher and write evaluations. The trainer will also evaluate the taped lesson and compare the evaluations. Prospective evaluators will have to pass a test to be certified, he said. 

The state has not decided who will pay for the training. The Department of Education has begun its search for trainers, many of whom will be set up through county Educational Service Centers. 

Read this and other articles at the Cleveland Plain Dealer

 


 
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