New teacher evaluation system will be more objective, less ambiguous

  • Written by Briana Gerdeman, News Writer

Northshore School District’s first year using a new teacher evaluation system required by state law is off to a good start, school officials said.

Northshore adopted a system called the Danielson Framework — one of three options that state law permits — that’s more objective and focuses more on student learning than the previous decades-old system, said NSD Superintendent Larry Francois.

"The old system was a binary system — either you were unsatisfactory or satisfactory," Francois explained. Its criteria for evaluating teachers "really focused more on the teacher and teaching … Many teachers didn’t feel like that system provided them the kind of feedback that helped them develop properly."

On the other hand, the Danielson Framework focuses more on student learning over the course of the year. It has four levels — unsatisfactory, basic, proficient and distinguished — with specific definitions and examples that show, for example, "here’s what basic really looks like," Francois said. Teachers submit "artifacts of student learning" to show their students’ progress.

The Danielson Framework encourages teachers to reflect on their own work and how they could improve. With the help of principals, teachers set their own goals for student growth and decide how they will measure those goals.

"It really forces people to do an honest assessment of ‘What am I trying to teach?’" Francois said.

Teachers can choose to use school-, state- or districtwide assessments to measure students’ learning, among other measurements, but the evaluation doesn’t take into account standardized test scores from previous years. The evaluation also includes scheduled and unscheduled observations from principals — at least two 30-minute observations per year.

The evaluation results won’t be used to influence salaries, but if a teacher with more than five years of experience is rated "basic" or lower for more than two years, they can be put on probation.

Half of NSD’s teachers, including all new teachers and teachers with "performance deficiencies" under the old system, have switched to the new evaluation system this year.

Another quarter will transition in each of the next two school years, until all teachers have transitioned by the 2015-2016 school year.

All principals took a 30-hour online training course to teach them how to evaluate teachers consistently. The goal is to "calibrate" the evaluation system so teachers would get the same rating even if they were evaluated by different principals.

The transition’s going smoothly, said Tracy Meloy, NSD’s Teacher and Principal Evaluation Project Implementation coordinator. (Her position is a new one created to help the district switch evaluation systems.)

Teachers and principals are "all being very, very thoughtful," Meloy said. "They’re giving one another the grace to be learners in this process."

Francois also said teachers are being thoughtful and taking the new evaluation system seriously.

"Teachers want to do a good job," he said. "They want to be there to help kids."

Alan Singer, an education professor at Hofstra University and an author who’s written about secondary education, criticized the Danielson Framework in his blog on Huffington Post. He questioned the expertise of Charlotte Danielson, the creator of the Danielson Framework, and said the observation periods are too short for teachers to demonstrate all the criteria they have to show.

But Tim Brittell, president of the Northshore Education Association, and Pete Bylsma, who served as president of Washington Educational Research Association, had only good things to say about the Danielson Framework.

"It’s been around the longest, it’s the most comprehensive, and by far the most well-known and reputable," Bylsma said. "That particular framework outdoes all the other options … It was a no-brainer for a lot of districts to pick this particular one."

He added that teachers aren’t expected to show all the criteria in a single class.

Brittell said the teacher’s union supported choosing the Danielson Framework because of its specific descriptions and close fit with state evaluation criteria.

"We felt that the descriptors of high-quality teaching were much more clear in the Danielson Framework," he said. "...This is much more objective, and the previous state system was much more subjective."

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