While keeping the integrity and goal of the original plan in place, Orange Schools has streamlined and strengthened the focus of its plan for teacher evaluations. Co-chairs Patty Moffett and Mike Gray presented the plan and the impetus behind the changes to the Board of Education in late November. “Updating of teacher evaluation plan has been a goal for quite a while now,” Moffett, a first grade teacher at Peck Place School explains. The plan was last changed in 2014 with minor grammatical changes.
A committee was formed, made up of members of the committee that drafted the original document. “They were willing to continue serving so that the spirit and deliberation from the inception of the plan were familiar to everyone as were the portions of the plan that were in need of updating,” Moffett said. The committee is a cross-section of the district’s teaching staff with representation from all four buildings, grade levels, special education and specialists and administrators, overseen by Director of Curriculum Evelyn Russo.
The goal was to minimize time spent on paperwork for teachers and administrators and maximize time spent on communication, collaboration, and meaningful dialogue to improve and support instruction. As Gray, principal at Race Brook School, explains, “Teacher evaluation is made up of process and paperwork. The process of how teacher evaluation works is not something we changed at all. To give you a frame of reference, last year alone I filled out 787 forms in the program, Talent Ed. Each of those forms gets shuffled between myself and a teacher at least twice, sometimes three or four times that a form goes back and forth. Sometimes when you’re dealing with that many forms, you tend to lose efficiency and focus. We want the focus to be on improving our instruction,” he adds.
At the start of this school year, teachers set goals through a series of four forms: Student Learning Outcome (one tied to mathematics, one tied to reading), Teacher Practice Goal, Parent Feedback Goal and Student Feedback Goal. “What we have done is put all of those onto one form. We’ve gotten positive feedback already that it is so much easier on one form,” said Gray. At the middle of the school year, teachers use the same ‘one-form’ process to detail their progress toward each specific goal. A meeting is held mid-year with each teacher and principal as is an end-of year meeting. “We’ve taken 12 forms and made them into three. We’ve gotten rid of a lot of information that we didn’t need on each form and are focusing on each teacher’s practice in the classroom.” Gray said.
As part of their constant evaluation, each year, teachers choose one of four practice goals including Planning for Active Learning, Classroom Environment, Instruction for Active Learning, Professional Responsibilities and Teacher Leadership. “They choose something they want to target to build their own capacity. It is something that will affect their instruction and therefore effect learning of the students in the classroom,” said Gray. “In the past, they would choose a goal and not talk too much about it until the end of the year, but now when they do this, all of the observations that the administrators will be doing can focus on that teacher practice goal that they have chosen throughout the year.”
Teacher evaluations are made up of four components: student growth, student feedback, teacher performance and parent feedback. Originally, each component was weighted equally at evenly at 25%. Under the new initiative, the practice goal and student growth are more heavily weighted 40 and 45 percent respectively. “We’re changing the weight of the focus for the goal. We’re saying that your teacher practice, which is making up that 40% of the entire summative evaluation. If we really truly want people to focus and put the work in and build their own capacity to really effect change in the classroom, changing that weighting makes sense,” Gray said.
“From a teacher’s perspective, if there is something you really want to focus on and you have four domains that are equally divided, it is much more laser focused to change what you want to change in your classroom to improve instruction for children,” Moffett said.
“It was a reflective process, looking at the plan again. It provided that focus for us as a committee and we hope it will provide that focus for our staff as well. Based on feedback I’ve already gotten, people are excited to be doing this,” Gray said.
By Melissa Nicefaro – Orange Town News Correspondent