More Learning is Goal of New Teacher Evaluation Process

by Melany Gray

(January 22, 2009) Ever wonder how teachers and staff get evaluated? At their January 20 meeting, the Mamaroneck School Board got a step-by-step guide to the new Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) procedures whose details were hammered out last spring during lengthy negotiations over the teachers’ contract. (See: Mamaroneck Teachers & School Board OK Contract.)

Assemblyman George Latimer’s Budget Hearing: Larchmont: Feb 12

The board also heard briefly from Assemblyman Latimer, who announced that he is holding a hearing on Governor David Paterson’s 2009-2010 proposed budget at the Larchmont Village Hall on Thursday, February 12 from 4:00 – 8:00 pm.

Speakers’ will be limited to four minutes each; written comments are welcome. Comments will be shared with the Ways and Means Committees of both houses of the Legislature.

Retiring as of June 30, 2009
  • Lawrence Keane, Assistant Principal/Hommocks

  • Geraldine Brause , Math Teacher & Math Dep’t Chair/MHS

  • Mary Everett, Science Teacher/Hommocks

  • Joanna Levande, Pre-K Teacher/Mam'k Avenue School

  • Vincent Nanni, Technology Teacher/MHS

  • Teacher /Central School

  • Christopher Ward, Science Teacher/Hommocks
Meetings about the School Bond: Vote is February 10

The board is continuing with efforts to explain elements of the capital bond and answer questions. Still to come are the following meetings:

  • Monday, January 26, 9:15 am: Mamaroneck Avenue School

  • Monday, January 26, 7:00 pm: Harbor Island Pavilion

  • Tuesday, January 27, 7:00 pm: Central School

  • Wednesday, January 28, 7:30 pm Murray Avenue School

  • Monday, February 2, 7:30 pm: Mamaroneck High School

What’s new? An annual evaluation is mandated by the state – that’s true for non-tenured and tenured teachers, as well as for teaching aides and assistants and even for school nurses.

Mamaroneck has adopted the state’s eight evaluation criteria but added one of their own – “professionalism” – which goes beyond what can be observed in a classroom.

There’s a three-year cycle that involves goal setting and annual reviews of goals met.

Also new is a year-end “summative” review of the many observations made over the year that leads to an ultimate rating of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Consensus Hard Won

Coming to consensus on the new process took a good deal of work, noted Betsy Nolan, a first grade teacher at Murray Avenue School, and Dr. Seth Weitzman, principal of the Hommocks Middle School, who together presented the process to the board. It was collaborative but not necessarily easy for the 5 teachers and 5 administrators tasked with making the revisions.

The group included Ann Borsellino, president of the Mamaroneck Teachers Association, as well as two central staff administrators , Pete Scordo, interim assistant superintendent for administration and personnel, and Annie Ward, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

Superintendent Dr. Paul Fried said he was “very pleased" with the result and Mr. Scordo, who has worked for a number of other school districts, described the end product as “the most comprehensive evaluation system I’ve ever worked on.”

Nine Criteria + An Annual Summary: Specific and Spelled Out

Central to evaluation of all teaching staff are nine criteria specified in the new procedure. The eight mandated by the state include categories such as content knowledge and classroom preparation. The district added “professionalism” that considers whether, for example, a teacher responds to e-mail professionally or goes beyond contractual or classroom duties to attend evening meetings with parents or the board.

At the conclusion of the annual evaluation, the reviewing administrator determines whether performance is satisfactory or not.

This new summative evaluation, noted Ms. Nolan, gives administrators more to consider than just observations of lessons. Ms. Ward, after the meeting, expressed excitement about having a process that encourages reviewers to make formal and informal observations and collect evidence and data throughout the year.

Goals for All Teachers – Tenured or Not

The evaluation process is not just a report card – it’s meant to help all teachers set goals and make improvements.

Tenured teachers complete a three-year cycle: each teacher sets a yearly goal that addresses one or more of the nine criteria, with all nine criteria covered by the end of the cycle. There is a formal observation at least once during “phase 1” of the cycle. In phase 2, teachers choose an independent project to demonstrate how they are developing professionally; in phase 3, they choose a collaborative one.

Non-tenured teachers also submit yearly goals but receive many more observations. Building administrators sit in on a class three times per year.

Two years ago, central staff administrators began participating in the classroom reviews. Dr. Fried observes all non-tenured teachers in their third year (generally the year they become eligible for tenure), Ms. Ward observes second-year teachers, and Mr. Scordo observes first-year teachers.

The reviews entail “lots of productive dialogue around teaching objectives,” in meetings before and after each observation, explained Ms. Ward. The aim is
to assure that lessons not only engage students, but also promote learning.

Then there is a written report which includes both commendations and recommendations or areas of concern. In addition, there is a rating on whether the lesson “met a majority of the objectives and outcomes outlined in the pre-observation conference.”

If There’s a Problem: Teacher Improvement Plan

State law also provides a mechanism for strengthening teachers who need improvement. The teacher and the administration develop a plan (known as the Teacher Improvement Plan or TIP) that identifies the problem and how to address it. State regulations require that the process be collaborative, with the goal that teachers ultimately succeed.

What about teachers who cannot or will not improve? Dr. Fried explained after the meeting, “The APPR has as its foundation the concept that all teachers want to become the most outstanding teacher possible.” As part of the TIP, assistance can come from a mentor, a content coach or a teacher’s colleagues. “If growth is still at issue, supervision of the teacher can be increased and more frequent feedback provided through the observation process,” added Dr. Fried.

Dr. Fried acknowledged, “due to the tenure laws it is extremely rare that a teacher leaves the classroom due to a teaching performance issue.” He added, “Teacher tenure creates an environment where it is imperative that the administration work collaboratively and effectively with underperforming teachers to help them improve their skills in the classroom.”

Administrators Need Training, Too

To better equip them to follow the new procedures and to observe and evaluate teachers effectively, district administrators have been participating in a series of full-day workshops taught by a consultant from Research for Better Teaching.

And administrators have been discussing among themselves how to evaluate teachers in a comprehensive way. Dr. Weitzman noted they use “some hard data, but a lot of what makes a classroom work is the soft stuff.” An effective evaluation “can’t just be about the emotional part of learning and relationships,” however. Hard data are required.

Administrators also are evaluated yearly, explained Ms. Ward, but through a process independent of the APPR.

A Work in Progress

Ms. Nolan noted that the APPR requires an ongoing committee “to tweak and fine-tune the process.” The committee will be meeting at the end of the year and over the summer to revise the documents as appropriate.

Melany Gray is co-president of the Mamaroneck High School PTSA.