BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - In 2012, the New Jersey Legislature unanimously passed a new teacher evaluation system for the 2013-2014 school year through the TEACHNJ Act. Its main purpose is to recognize student achievement, identify who needs help, and provide feedback to teachers. The law has been controversial since it combines student achievement and teacher practice as a means of evaluating teachers.
One major component of the system are Student Growth Objectives (SGOs), in which teachers set objectives for their students at the beginning of the year and are assessed on whether those objectives were met at the end of the year. The SGOs make up 15% of the evaluation and are not the only way teacher performance is measured. It is a clear-cut way to measure student growth and evaluate teachers. It expects students to move up x points, according to the teacher’s goal as it must demonstrate improvement. The concept of SGOs is purposely vague in order to allow teachers to have autonomy.
The New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) is concerned about the SGOs and the use of student growth data to evaluate teachers as it “is largely untested and questioned by most of the respected research on the subject,” according to the NJEA.
Teacher practice can be measured through a number of models, which chiefly use classroom observations to assess teachers. Governor Livingston is using the Danielson model.
Non-tenured teachers have three required observations, according to the law. In the first two years, they must have two long observations and one short one. In the third and fourth years of employment, they must have one long and two short ones. Tenured teachers must have three short observations each year.
However, this is the minimum standard. Superintendent Judy Rattner decided that the Berkeley Heights School District would exceed the state requirement. All schools in the district are observing tenured teachers for two short and one long observation. Each short observation is for twenty minutes, but a long observation is for the entire period. The short observations are unannounced at GL. However, the long one is announced as the teacher meets for a pre-conference and a post-conference. The observations are conducted by different members of the administration.
The Danielson model is good and thorough as the full document for the evaluation of teachers is about thirty pages. The model contains four domains of teaching responsibility: Planning and Preparation, Classroom Environment, Instruction, and Professional Responsibilities. These domains are further divided into twenty-two specific components. Some components are more concrete whereas others are broader as they refer to the atmosphere and learning environment of the classroom. It is subjective how evaluators could interpret the four domains.
The evaluation score combines teacher practice and student growth to give all teachers one of four ratings: Highly Effective, Effective, Partially Effective, or Ineffective. To maintain tenure, teachers must continue to earn a rating of Effective or Highly Effective.
The evaluation system has the potential to determine or take away tenure. There is a long process to take away tenure. First, teachers are given the chance to make changes. If the necessary changes are not made, their tenure can be revoked. However, it cannot immediately change bad teachers since the institution of public education is so large. This evaluation system is a starting point said Gov. Livingston teacher Ben Bolger. “The intent is to prove that students are learning, that they are improving, that the teachers are effective and that in areas that they are not effective, they can improve. In any evaluation tool, the implication is that if you are doing your job badly, bad things will happen, but the institution is not out to get you.”
Currently, teachers are not consciously incorporating the criteria of the Danielson model into their teaching. They have been told to keep doing what they are doing. After they receive feedback, and the teachers and administration are more familiar with the model, it will be easier to make adjustments and see areas that need growth.
Regarding the new evaluation system, Gov. Livingston teacher Lisa DiMaggio said, “There is a bit of a learning curve with it this year. It is more student- driven, which is a hot topic in education right now. I think it is a good idea that teachers are being looked at more closely and frequently.”
This evaluation is different from before as Student Growth Objectives is a new concept and the framework has changed to a more detailed rubric. However, teachers have always been evaluated, but structure and the way the data is quantified has changed. It is too early to weigh if it is a better method. The system will probably end up being tweaked or refined. As Bolger put it, “We’ll evaluate the evaluation.”
Superintendent Judy Rattner will be reviewing the definition and measurement of student achievement at the February 6 Board of Education Meeting.