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Here Are Some Ideas Being Floated for Teacher Evaluations

By Amy Zimmer | April 22, 2016 12:05pm | Updated on April 24, 2016 7:13pm
 A classroom at a public school in Morningside Heights.
A classroom at a public school in Morningside Heights.
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DNAinfo/Emily Frost

MANHATTAN — As the state gets ready to overhaul teacher evaluations, much of the focus has been on the role standardized tests play in evaluating educators.

But what's gone under the radar is the role in-classroom observations will play in teacher evaluations — and who will conduct them.

New York State officials expect the big reboot of teacher evaluations to be implemented by 2019, according to Chalkbeat.

DNAinfo New York has learned about a few options being floated for the observation component of evaluations.

In one scenario, the city would hire evaluators, DOE sources said. That could mean hiring scores of educators with experience as principals — whose starting salary is more than $142,000 — and could cost upwards of $60 million.

Another option, according to school insiders, is tapping principals and assistant principals within the school system to trek to other schools and evaluate teachers at institutions similar to their own.

This could require school leaders to be off their own premises for nearly 15 days a year, in addition to needing time away from their own schools' operations to write up the evaluations — something school administrators fear could have a detrimental impact on running their own schools.

Under the current evaluation system, 60 percent of a teacher’s grade is based on principal observations, while the other 40 percent is based on student test scores.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year called for decreasing the observation to 50 percent of the grade and would include an observation from an “independent” evaluator in hopes of preventing scores from being inflated by a teacher’s own principal. In the end, a new system is being created that will be based on a “matrix” model, instead of percentages, with a grid combining test scores and observations, according to state officials.

Some principals have told DNAinfo they would welcome their teachers being observed by educators from similar schools, who could understand the environments and student bodies they work with.

Already school leaders have been visiting other schools to learn best practices under the DOE’s system of showcase schools, some said.

Still, having other principals conducting evaluations raised questions about objectivity and whether principals, who might be friendly with one another, would rate their peers’ teachers more favorably, or if they weren’t on good terms, whether they’d be harsher.

And outside observers — whether principals or not — might have different educational philosophies, which could be problematic, school leaders said.

“Let's say someone coming in says, ‘Why don't you have kids sitting on the floor for story time?,’ when that's not part of our model,” said one middle school principal, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. “My basic concern is what happens when the philosophical ground is not aligned.”

To this principal, having a “drive-by” rating to validate her own ratings felt “insulting.”

Another middle school principal, whose school has already been hosting others in her building, said having outside observers wouldn’t be such a stretch.

“It doesn't have to feel like a slam,” this principal said. But, she added, “We're going to have to spend and put money into figuring it out — instead of putting money into the schools.”

DOE officials declined to comment on the specifics of what the observations might look like.

“We are working to develop a high quality system and collaborating with key partners, in a way that builds on the hard work and successes of previous years and accelerates progress in teaching and learning in every classroom,” DOE spokeswoman Devora Kaye said. “We continue to have ongoing discussions.”

A committee of teachers and other experts will convene in the spring of 2017 to review the state’s law on teacher evaluations and make recommendations before the state education department’s proposal to start in the 2019 school year.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia did not reveal how the evaluations might change.

“We want to make sure that there’s a very purposeful communication process in place for whatever we end up deciding is the evaluation structure,” she said, according to Chalkbeat. “Going too early on some of these key components would cause us to be first of all, I think, stressed.”