Superintendent Jere Hochman has almost as many questions regarding the state’s implementation of its teacher and principal evaluation guidelines as any other administrator in the state.
It wouldn’t be all that surprising except for the fact that Hochman is one of the representatives of the state task force charged with reviewing the law and making recommendations to the state education commissioner on how to carry it into action.
“You ask three lawyers about different aspects of this law and you get three different answers,” Hochman said during a presentation he gave on the law during the March 16 school board meeting.
The statute was approved last year as part of the state’s application to the federal Race to the Top program, a reform program funded with $4 billion in stimulus money. Now, school districts in the state must implement the evaluation standards by the start of next year.
As part of the law, the state was required to set up a committee represented by teachers, principals, administrators and university officials to help assist the state’s commissioner of education in creating the legislation. Hochman sits on this committee as a representative for state Council of School Superintendents.
The law will only go into effect for English and math teachers in grades 4 through 8 in 2011-2012, before being rolled out for all teachers in 2012-2013.
There has been clamoring by Governor Andrew Cuomo and other state officials to speed up the process so that the law goes into effect for all teachers next year. But Hochman said a lot of uncertainty still remains about how the statute will be implemented.
“It’s March and there are no regulations written,” Hochman said. “We’re supposed to implement this next school year and 700 school districts are still waiting for regulations.”
As the evaluation process stands now, teachers will be rated based on test scores, student growth and observations based on the teacher and students. Test scores and student growth will make 20 points each of the evaluation while the observational component will make up 60 points.
Teachers will fall into one of four categories: highly effective, effective, developing and ineffective.
“Think cut scores for students,” Hochman said. “Now the same concept will apply to teachers and principals.”
The reason teachers in grades 4 though 8 were chosen as the group to be evaluated in the first year is because English is tested in those grade levels and it will be easier to jump into those classes at first, according to Hochman.
Any contracts negotiated with teachers and administrators settled after July of last year must have wording that is consistent with the new statute.
But Hochman said it is still unclear how the evaluation process will be handled in terms of what can be worked out with bargaining units and what will be regulated. This also applies to the process of determining what test scores are used to evaluate teachers who don’t teach English or math.
“What if a teacher has been highly effective throughout their career and they’ve been graded effective rather than highly effective?” Hochman asked. “Can they appeal that?”
One negative affect is that administrators could become bogged down by paperwork and expenses related to the process will grow, Hochman said.
Another question that remains is how points will be divvied up in classroom with multiple teachers.
“For example, we have a co-teach program, as do many other school districts,” Hochman said. “Who is the teacher of record in that classroom if there are 25 students in that class and they take a English language arts test? Who claims the scores for those kids?”
Hochman also wondered about how high the stakes will be for teachers and districts as the wrinkles are ironed out in the first few years the law is carried into action.
“There are so many components to this that will take years to get done right,” Hochman said.
Hochman said the law could have a negative impact on the way that teachers conduct their lessons because they fear losing their jobs.
“The concern, regardless of philosophy, is will it turn a school or school district into a test-obsessed system,” Hochman said. “Will it cause teachers to make darn sure kids pass the test...because now, their evaluations depend on it?”
Hochman’s presentation to the board of education can bee seen here.
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