Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ohio Educators Cite Challenges For Teacher Evaluation System

A Gongwer news report from February 14, 2012 via Join the Future, a report detailing the ongoing challenges developing a workable evaluation system. Capacity, technical challenges, and a lot of unknowns continue to stress the implementation.

Teachers and administrators who have been testing the state's proposed teacher evaluation system voiced consensus Monday on the aspects of the program they both support and see as problem areas.

Speaking before the State Board of Education's Capacity Committee, the educators from six schools participating in the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System pilot project, some in the midst of testing the approach for the second year, shared their experiences with the model.

The Department of Education plans to use the feedback supplied to tweak OTES, which must be implemented in Race to the Top-participating schools by July and for all other schools by July 2013.

Committee Chairman Tom Gunlock said he hopes the resulting system to grade teacher performance will be known as the best in the country. Although OTES offers a statewide model, the approach will be customized in each district.

The concept of grading and eventually basing salary and retention decisions on performance has been met with apprehension by teachers who are not necessarily keen on being judged in part on how much their students learn in one year.

"The goal of the state framework and locally developed evaluation system is not to beat up on teachers," Mr. Gunlock said, adding it is meant to help teachers improve their work. "We simply cannot allow a child to lose a year's worth of learning."

The meeting participants said they are hearing concerns from participating teachers about use of the evaluation in part because students will soon switch to being tested on new standards. In the meantime, educators are trying to move to the new curricula while still preparing pupils for the current exams.

They said teachers are also uneasy about how student growth will be calculated in untested subjects and grades because currently the value-added growth measure can only be determined for reading and math grades 4-8.

Heather Pierce, music teacher at Valley Middle School, said she has attempted to conduct evaluations that would allow her to compare how her students performed at the start of the year versus the end.

"The amount of class time that it is taking is tremendous," she said. "If I have to take four class periods in assessments over the course of the year, that's four major lessons my kids are losing."

She said students in her middle school choir class are "terrified" of her assessment approach of videotaping students singing in small groups. "I'm being asked to assess a class that is totally group oriented."

Another issue with the student growth measure is that current value-added results are available too late for timely use, Dayton Early College Academy Principal David Taylor said.

"If we're looking at actually putting that in a teacher's evaluation for that year, we won't get the results until the next year ... so we're going to end up using a year old data to evaluate a teacher or we simply are going to have to get the results earlier," he said.

James Herrholtz, ODE Associate Superintendent of Learning, said the department hopes to have some answers to the value-added questions by spring or early summer.

"The fear of the unknown is what we're up against, and the more that we can add clarity in that area and diffuse some of those fears, I think will add some credibility to the process," he said.

He also raised issue with the "overwhelming" number of teacher observations required as part of the evaluation. "We're all kind of pressed for time, and it's a daunting task to have to do that many observations."

Lion of Judah Academy Principal Katrina Joyner-Watts also expressed trouble with the time commitment.

"With the small staff and the small schools such as myself, our school is challenging to complete the evaluation process because the administrators usually do not have the manpower to cover the administrative duties while the principal is evaluating," she said, adding that principals themselves have to be evaluated under the Ohio Principal Evaluation System.

Katie Hofmann, lead teacher at the Office of Innovations in Cincinnati Public Schools, said she also sees a capacity issue when it comes to implementing much of the system.

"I see that with budgets being cut dramatically, principals or evaluators are going to have to be trained so we have a common understand and a common language that we're using across the state, so that's going to be one more thing on our administrators," she said.

"The goal-setting process, for it to be rigorous and really focus teachers on where they need to go, is going to take a tremendous amount of time. I have concerns that our administrators are not experts in each and every content area."

Valley Middle School Principal Marc Kreischer said he likes that accomplished teachers are permitted to act as evaluators in subject areas where a principal's expertise might not be as great. That approach brings with it problems, however.

"When it comes to making decisions on employment purposes, staff members have a difficult time in feeling comfortable with a fellow staff member doing their evaluation, but also that other staff member that's going to be asked to do so," he said. "I believe personally that the focus is teacher growth, but in a teacher's eyes it's still about the evaluation, it's still about the employment, so how we communicate that is extremely important."

Chester Starks, assistant executive superintendent at Lion of Judah Academy, joined others in saying the term "evaluation" itself brings with it a judgmental stigma that makes teachers uncomfortable. He suggested changing the "E" in OTES to mean something like "efficacy" instead to emphasize that the system is about improving teacher performance.

Ms. Joyner-Watts said one of her teachers resigned after two OTES reviews to go back to college, which might be related to not living up to perceived expectations. "We're not sure exactly if that's the case but that's a challenge that we have."

Board member Sen. Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering) asked if the original apprehension over evaluations in general has dissipated among those involved.

Mr. Kreischer said his teachers are more open to it, but the concept of an evaluation for employment purposes they have "a big issue with" overall. "The way it's communicated is going to be very important."

Ms. Hofmann said when her school offered additional compensation to teachers who meet their goals, 22 of the 25 eligible to participate stepped forward. Other schools; however, have not been as comfortable with the concept.

"I think it's a matter of building the trust at the school level with the administrator," she said. "I've seen some real positive results of this in Cincinnati."

The teachers and principals were generally on the same page with aspects of the pilot system they support. Among them are:

Requiring teachers to conduct a self-evaluation and set goals. "I liked that their goals were based on evidence, and a lot of times if we have that evidence right in front of us, it's a lot easier to see what decisions we should make and not necessarily go with our gut instinct," Van Wert Middle School teacher Jen Ainsworth said.
Having administrators conduct a pre-assessment, which Ms. Pierce said is "essential."
Pre- and post-evaluation conferences between the teacher and evaluator. "It encourages the teacher to do the most talking," Mr. Kreischer said.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Who is protecting Ohioans in the fracking debate?

Who is protecting Ohioans in the fracking debate?

CLEVELAND -- Natural gas and oil companies are buying up big tracts of Ohio land on top of natural gas and oil-rich shale.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Children See, Children Do

This ad might be disturbing to some viewers, but it graphically illustrates how children imitate the behaviors that they see being modeled.

Take A Stand Against Bullying

Take a stand against negative behavior. Be the change.

Words Hurt-Be the Change

You Can't Take It Back

If you are posting anywhere on the internet, be careful what you post. Once you post, it is out of your control.