Teacher Tricia Dotson talks Julie Harper, Stepahnie Ostarello, Ben Geraghty and Stephanie Las about their group poster project for vocabulary with focus on sentence grammar in their 7th grade English Language Arts class at Hickory Creek Middle School in Frankfort, Illinois, Friday, October 26, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun Times Media
Updated: December 1, 2012 6:03AM
Each year, much attention is paid to student test scores and school report cards.
But what about how teachers are “graded”? What makes one teacher excellent and another unsatisfactory? Who decides, and how does the outcome affect a teacher’s employment?
Such questions were posed to Ty Harting, dean of human resources for Community High School District 218. Harting has worked as a teacher, a principal and now as an administrator, so he brings a unique perspective.
Harting said teacher evaluations are mandated by law, but recent changes to the Illinois School Code have created some confusion as to how the changes are to be interpreted and put into place. Some details may differ from district to district. For example, the state gives districts the option of creating their own rubric for evaluating teachers or using its model, the Danielson model.
“We chose to go with the Danielson model because we were already using it,” Harting said. “Of course we had to tweak it to meet new requirements.”
The Danielson model consists of four domains in which there are 22 competencies. Here is how the process works in District 218.
Q: How often are teachers evaluated?
A: This varies from district to district, but tenured teachers in District 218 who have received a “proficient” or “excellent” rating on their previous evaluation can be rated again the following year or officials can opt to skip a year. Nontenured teachers are evaluated twice a year, once in the fall and again in the spring.
Q: How does evaluation work?
A: Teacher and evaluator meet for a pre-evaluation conference, a date for observation is set, and once complete, a post-evaluation conference is held. Teachers have a copy of the evaluation rubric, so they know exactly what to expect.
Q: Who does the evaluating?
A: Used to be those who evaluated teachers took a one-day training session. A new law now requires evaluators to undergo 60 hours of training that includes modules, videos and lessons. An evaluator has to pass every step before he or she is allowed to evaluate.
Q: Can you provide a sample profile of an excellent evaluation?
A: An excellent teacher engages kids and motivates them. Students play a significant role in the success of the class; they help manage it. The teacher’s lessons are well-planned. There is a definite goal and the students understand the objectives. The teacher instructs and models certain practices and then lets the students try. Finally, there is some check for understanding. Conversely, a poor teacher won’t know until the test results are in that the kids aren’t getting it.
Q: What about student test scores. Do they factor in?
A: By 2016, all public schools in Illinois will base 30 percent of a teacher’s evaluation on the Academic Growth Component. Schools are currently working out a system for measuring growth from baseline data. We’re not sure how we’ll do it yet, or how it will work. This is the component that gets everybody stressed out. The philosophy of showing that students are making progress is wonderful. Of course, any teacher wants to show that he is a teacher with impact. But there are so many variables to this component — class size, learning challenges, home issues.
Q: Can a teacher be dismissed because of a less-than-favorable evaluation?
A: There is no excuse for having a teacher who scores low or below average on an evaluation. This is about our kids. New rules benefit good teachers. Used to be when a school district faced a reduction-in-force, teachers with the least seniority were automatically affected. Now, teachers are ranked according to their evaluations. The first to be considered for dismissal due to budgetary cuts are nontenured teachers and those with “unsatisfactory” or “needs improvement” evaluations. Seniority becomes a protectant among teachers who have excellent evaluations.