Senate Bill 6696 has put into motion changes in the way teachers are evaluated.
First... the relevant language of the bill (from the link above):
Evaluations. Each school district must establish performance criteria and an evaluation process for all staff and establish a four-level rating system for evaluating classroom teachers and principals with revised evaluation criteria. Minimum criteria is specified. The new rating system must describe performance on a continuum that indicates the extent the criteria have been met or exceeded. When student growth data (showing a change in student achievement between two points in time) is available for principals and available and relevant to the teacher and subject matter it must be based on multiple measures if referenced in the evaluation.
Classroom Teachers. The revised evaluation criteria must include: centering instruction on high expectations for student achievement; demonstrating effective teaching practices; recognizing individual student learning needs, and developing strategies to address those needs; providing clear and intentional focus on subject matter content and curriculum; fostering and managing a safe, positive learning environment; using multiple student data elements to modify instruction and improve student learning; communicating and collaborating with parents and the school community; and exhibiting collaborative and collegial practices focused on improving instructional practice and student learning. The locally bargained short-form may also be used for certificated support staff or for teachers who have received one of the top two ratings for four years. The short-form evaluations must be specifically linked to one or more of the evaluation criteria.
Here in southwest Washington, ESD 112 is leading a group of districts who are beginning the process of adapting and implementing the evaluation procedures described in this bill. Of course, the first step is a careful reading of relevant parts of SB 6696.
There are two elements of the language above that I like in particular. To begin, there's this:
The new rating system must describe performance on a continuum that indicates the extent the criteria have been met or exceeded.
This, in my mind, is a significant and necessary shift from the binary "satisfactory/unsatisfactory." Will it be an easy shift? No way. It is much easier to assign a yea or nay--to distinguish the nuances of qualitative degree upon a continuum requires more analysis and closer examination of teaching. This is a good thing. But, it will require time--the biggest factor that threatens the success of this reform.
The other advantage I see of this kind of continuum-based scale: it has the potential to spark very meaningful professional development conversations. Rather than moving from an "un-sat" domain to a "sat" domain, we're talking about the reality of teaching as a skill: we exist on a continuum. There is always room to grow. And, if the rumors are true that earning the top degree (4 on this scale) is something not distributed willy nilly, and a building should expect to have a sparse handful of teachers in that highest echelon, it will hopefully help us 2's and 3's embark on reflection and professional development that is focused on refining those aspects of our practice which differentiate those master teachers (4's) from the rest.
My reservation: what if the administrator making the evaluation is him or herself not a highly competent educator? (This same concern was raised by Tamara a few posts ago.) As a teacher, I would want to know that my evaluator is not only trained in a system that is applied uniformly and fairly, I would want to feel like my evaluator is better than me. Ideally, administrators would be the most masterful of master teachers. Certainly, some are. As certainly, many are not.
Back to the language of the bill: I appreciate this...
When student growth data (showing a change in student achievement between two points in time) is available for principals and available and relevant to the teacher and subject matter it must be based on multiple measures if referenced in the evaluation.
This gives me hope that data, in its uglier incarnations, will be less likely to be misused. The fact that this language requires growth data (and directly references change between two points in time) and that data must rely on multiple measures if figured into teacher evaluation makes me optimistic that data is more likely to be used in a manner that is meaningful and more clearly related to a teacher's performance. Of course, there is the worry that in practice this will mean more standardized tests within a given district--but hopefully wise teacher-leaders will step in to make sure that districts use wise discretion in how this "data mining" takes place. Nonetheless, I will remain a data skeptic until I see more detail about implementation.
As for the section directly connected to teachers and the dimensions by which we will be assessed, it is difficult for me to argue with the criteria. Sure, the language carries inherent subjectivity and ambiguity, but such is the nature of any kind of qualitative assessment. (And this is not to imply that quantitative assessment is any less ambiguous, subjective, or open to interpretation.)
All told, I like this new system. There are issues: time, buy-in, calibration of multiple evaluators within a district, just to name a few.
I do worry that down the road this new four-point scale will somehow also be tied to compensation. I'm not fundamentally opposed to that in theory, but the details of the practice are what must be clarified before I'd support such a hypothetical ranking system.
Perhaps I am supposed to resist harder, just because. Certainly, there are details and nuances to this new system that have yet to rear their ugly face. I strive to be open minded and willing to shift my position in light of new learning--so I'm curious: what are your observations or reservations about this new evaluation system?