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Setting the record straight on evaluation, direct placement

Posted by Feb 21st, 2010.

Editor’s note: This post is republished from Kim Ursetta’s blog, with the author’s permission.

First, I want to be clear. As a teacher, and union leader, I do not want to see any ineffective teacher in a classroom with students. Teachers go into the profession in order to have a positive impact on students and their learning.

Now, let’s talk about what has been happening in Denver. Yes, Mr. Boasberg, it is true that we have been talking about the transfer cycle for a few years. Unfortunately, Ms. Mitchell’s article didn’t mention that we (DPS and DCTA) overhauled the entire process last spring, and were able to cut the number of direct placements by at least 2/3 in one year. There has not been a seniority-based process in Denver since the early 1990′s. We also had previously put into place specific provisions that if a teacher were on an improvement plan, that they couldn’t be “passed on” to another school. In short, principals have to complete the evaluation process (both formatively and summatively) in the way it was intended.

Mr. Boasberg has proposed eliminating direct placements from all Title I schools. I don’t know a teacher that enjoys dealing with the budget realities in our schools, of which direct placements are a result. When education isn’t adequately funded at the school level, tough decisions have to be made. Assumptions should not be made about the quality of teachers who are directly placed. If there is a performance issue with a teacher, reducing their position is not an ethically responsible choice, and that teacher should be put on a remediation plan. If a teacher isn’t able to meet the expectations of the improvement plan with appropriate supports and resources, then they should be removed.

The notion of having our best teachers in our most at-risk schools is one with which I strongly agree. I am a National Board Certified Teacher, and have always taught at at-risk schools. Does Mr. Boasberg realize that 70.45% of DPS students are on free or reduced lunch?

Examining the root cause of this problem is is key in finding a solution which effects a super majority of our schools. Some questions that should be addressed are:

• Why are teachers leaving these schools?
• Do these schools have effective leaders?
• Do they have the tools and resources necessary to meet the needs of students?
• Are teachers empowered to make decisions and influence practice to meet student needs?
• Are there adequate monetary incentives to recruit teachers?
• Is there a quality mentoring or professional learning community in the building?

I do know that nationwide, turnover of staff in Title I schools is higher than more affluent schools. I also know that there are many factors that influence attrition in our at-risk schools. The Alliance for Quality Teaching did a great job in highlighting this issue in Colorado. The “take away” here is that there are many factors that affect the quality of teachers in our most at-risk schools. There needs to be a systemic approach to improving the teaching and learning conditions; especially in these schools. The district should look at how accomplished teachers are able to transform at-risk schools in other areas in the country.

Teacher evaluations, as charged in state statute, are to be used to improve instruction. I truly believe if a teacher is found to be ineffective in an area(s) of instruction, they should be given the opportunity to improve. If they do not improve, they should be dismissed.

Speaking of the actual evaluation process, Denver has a standards-based evaluation of teachers that includes “records of teaching” that require teachers to demonstrate mastery of each teaching standard. Each standard is rated, and a summative evaluation is given. The evaluation process, in my opinion, is not well implemented. Principals are still conducting “drive by” observations maybe once a year, as opposed to continual observations and formative feedback designed to improve instruction. There are some great examples of quality programs that incorporate an effective evaluation system. Dr. Tilton is beginning to implement “Instructional Rounds”, similar to medical rounds, that shows great promise. Other well known models are found in Columbus, OH, Toledo, OH, Montgomery County, MD, and Poway, CA. These models go a step further, and incorporate Peer Assistance and Review.

Interestingly enough, The New Teacher Project conducted an in depth study of the evaluation process in Denver which shows what teachers have been saying for years. This is a systemic issue that needs to be addressed:

“Teachers absolutely do not receive effective feedback,”
-Joan Schunck, The New Teacher Project

So what is the solution?
Yes, the Gates Foundation money gives us- DPS AND DCTA a great opportunity to improve the systems needed to effectively evaluate teachers. It’s now up to all of us to have meaningful dialogue and work together to achieve these goals. It will take compromise from both sides to implement an effective system.

The New Teacher Project’s report on Denver emphasizes what we as teachers continue to emphasize. Principals are not effectively trained to conduct a meaningful evaluation. We need some joint training on inter rater reliability, and in depth conversations to establish common understandings of the evaluation rubric. If you ask any teacher or principal what it looks like to “Meet” or “Exceed” one of the teaching standards, you would come different conclusions. Teachers and principals need to have conversations together as to what each standard looks like in the classroom. This takes time, and must be a priority of the district.

Sure, we can point the finger at teachers, or principals about the evaluation system, and transfer process. I believe it’s important to acknowledge how far we’ve come. More importantly, we must find a path together to determine where we’re going. These issues are not isolated and require a systems based approach to reach a mutual solution.

I challenge Mr. Boasberg to work COLLABORATIVELY with DCTA to fix the system. Simply throwing ideas out in the press is not productive.

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One Response to “Setting the record straight on evaluation, direct placement”

  1. Hear, hear, Kim. I’ll also throw into the mix that the Douglas County Schools Superintendent and the AFT are now rolling out a better teacher evaluation as a collaborative project. In short, from the time their new Board was seated (immediately after their election was certified, I might add) to now, they have already come up with a way to deal with teacher quality issues.

    It’s a sad state of affairs when a conservative mindset beats out what liberals should have already accomplished, much more cheaply and quickly.

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