Saturday, July 23, 2011

Education Bill Requires New Educator Evaluation Program

I'm going to discuss some of the new Education legislation that  was passed this past session over the next few postings.  The omnibus education bill contains amendments which require more effective teacher evaluation and peer coaching.   In Minnesota, a teacher is a probationary teacher during the first three years of service.  While previous law has required an evaluation system for probationary teachers, the new law creates a default system of evaluation and peer coaching which is mandatory, unless the school district and the teachers union agree to a different system and it requires evaluation with significant consequences for all teachers, whether they are on probation or have tenure.

The old statutory language provided that the teachers union and the school board were to jointly agree on a peer review process through joint agreement.  The new legislation continues to encourage the board and teachers to agree on both a teacher evaluation and peer review process.   However, if the union and the board cannot agree, then the school board and union must implement the default plan that is provided for under the legislation.   The law now requires, for the first time, that the evaluation and peer review process "Must include having trained observers serve as peer coaches or having teachers serve in professional learning communities."   The plan "must establish a three-year professional review cycle for each teacher that includes an individual growth and development plan, a peer review process, the opportunity to participate in a professional learning community, and at least one summative evaluation performed by a qualified and trained evaluator, such as school administrator."  In any year that the teacher is not evaluated by a trained evaluator, then the teacher must be evaluated by a peer review process, so that means that each year, some form of formal evaluation is required.  A summative evaluation means an evaluation that rates or describes performance.  All of this takes effect beginning in the 2014-15 school year.

Under the new evaluation process, student outcomes are an important part of the evaluation.  The evaluation process must used "an agreed upon teacher value-added assessment model for grade levels and subject areas for which value-added data are available and establish state or local measures of student growth for which value added data are not available."  This information must constitute 35% of the teacher evaluation results.

Implementing all of this will be easier said than done. Those of you who think implementing a major transformation in personnel evaluation is a snap, think again.   Where a system like this does not yet exist, it requires lots of hard work in creating the appropriate systems and structures.   It requires training people to use the system that has been devised.  It demands signficant personnel resources must be devoted to evaluation.    In a building that has, say, 30 teachers and one principal, implementing a first class evaluation system along these lines is a major undertaking for the principal, unless teachers are utilized to assist in the evaluation and coaching process.   It requires observation time, data review, meetings with evaluated staff, and significant efforts to assure that the requirements are being fulfilled consistently, professionally and fairly.   Most educators have simply not been trained in their teacher and administrator training to implement a program of this kind.  And before you make a negative comment about educators, let me just emphasize that most lawyers, most doctors, most accountants, indeed most professionals of every kind, receive no training in conducting quality evaluations.   Creating and implementing an outstanding evaluation process is a very demanding task, and its going to take lots of hard work on the part of school boards, administrators and teachers to get this job done fairly and effectively.

The new law requires teachers "not meeting professional teaching standards....to improve through a teacher improvement process that includes established goals and timelines."   It mandates that the evaluative process must "discipline a teacher for not making adequate progress in the teacher improvement process that may include a last chance warning, termination, discharge, nonrenewal, transfer....leave of absence or other discipline a school administrator determines is appropriate."   In other words, the evaluation process has significant impact on teacher careers, and so this whole process needs to be done professionally and competently.

The legislation envisons a process to be developed  by the Minnesota Department of Education that will create more detail in the default process that is used, if the union and district do not agree to their own process.  The new law becomes effective the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year, so that is three years hence.  In the meantime, there is a lot of work that will have to be done to prepare.

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