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July 10, 2014, 1:53 pm

State redesigns teacher assessments

New evaluation program seeks to improve feedback for educators

 

Even with public schools on summer break, there’s no offseason for education legislation. And when schools reconvene in September, teachers, principals and entire school districts will be observed and rated through a keener system, thanks to legislation introduced by state Representative Ryan Aument.

Last October, Aument, R-Lancaster County, introduced House Bill 1980, which called for the creation and implementation of a Teacher Evaluation System; last week, the House of Representatives unanimously voted in favor of Aument’s legislation, and the legislation now heads to the senate for vote.

According to Aument’s proposal, the new system would greatly alter school performance and teacher evaluations by having a wide range of variables and measures contribute 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation; these measures will include students achievement on statewide assessments, student growth reflected in the Pennsylvania Value-Added Assessment System. Classroom observations and other traditional models will comprise the other 50 percent of a teacher’s assessment.

“The new system would also expand the current rating scale, classified as traditional teaching practices, and would include areas such as classroom observation. Classroom observers would be evaluating teachers in several areas, including planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction and professional responsibilities,” Aument said in a statement released by his office. “The new system would also expand the current rating scale, increasing the number of possible rating categories from two to four. The legislation replaces the meaningless current rating scale of satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

“Clearly, a system which rates 99.4 percent of teachers as satisfactory is useless for teachers and students. Pennsylvania’s current evaluation system does not give teachers the feedback they deserve,” Aument continued. “I believe the evaluation framework presented in this bill will treat educators like the professionals they are, and lead to improved student academic performance. The intent of this evaluation system was not to base an educator’s rating solely on student test scores.”

Educators with StudentsFirst, a non-partisan, non-profit education think tank that champions education reform, believe Aument’s measures can only enhance the education of hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanian students.

“This is a great example of adults coming together to give kids what they need to get the high-quality education they deserve,” said StudentsFirst Pennsylvania State Director Craig Wallace. “The new evaluation system in Pennsylvania will do so much to help teachers improve, and ensure that all kids are learning at high levels.”

The Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators has long supported teacher evaluation reform, even having PASA Legislative Committee Chairman and Big Spring School District Superintendent Richard Fry testify last fall during HB 1980 hearings.

“It is important to note from the start that PASA believes the existing state statutory and regulatory requirements for teacher and educator ratings have long passed their usefulness as effective evaluation tools,” Fry said during his testimony. “With rating criteria limited to four areas — personality, preparation, technique and pupil reaction — it was not designed to provide an in-depth analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of each of the essential elements that typify effective instructional practice.”

Linda Cook, a member of the Pennsylvania State Education Association Board of Directors, also testified at the HB 1980 hearings, stating that PSEA has “advocated for several years for improvements to the current system.”

“Our members want a truly effective evaluation system, one that will help them fully demonstrate their professional practice and find ways to improve upon it,” Cook testified. “At its core, an effective evaluation system needs to be based on evidence that is strong, fair, and leads to valid conclusions about job performance that will help individuals improve their professional practice.”

Aument believes HB 1980 will go a long way toward meeting those needs, as it will allow for teachers to better engage principals and other education officials and will help them quickly identify trends and problem areas.

“Many teachers have expressed the desire to have more dialogue and feedback from administrators,” Aument said. “Our teachers are not afraid of being evaluated and being held responsible for students’ success.

“First and foremost, this legislation is in the best interest of our students and our teachers.”

 

Contact staff writer Damon C. Williams at (215) 893-5745 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .