Changes ahead for teachers, principals

New teacher and principal evaluation system to roll out in September.

Teachers and principals will receive grades of their own when the new Teacher-Principal Evaluation Project system rolls out statewide this fall.

Under the new system, which is the result of an education reform bill passed in 2010, teachers and principals will no longer be evaluated as satisfactory or unsatisfactory but will receive one of four marks, from unsatisfactory to distinguished.

In short the idea is to provide a model for instruction and clear, consistent feedback for teachers and principals as well as foster professional growth.

“We’re trying to demystify what good teaching is,” said Nancy Skerritt, assistant superintendent and director of teaching and learning in the Tahoma School District. “TPEP should be a model of teacher growth, not grading teachers… you want people to get feedback so they can continue to grow.”

Districts were given three options to choose from for structuring curriculum and implementing the new evaluations, known as the Danielson, Marzano, and CEL models.

Both the Tahoma and Kent school districts have opted to us the CEL model developed by the University of Washington.

Mark Koch, director of human resources for Tahoma, said the district decided to use the CEL model because of the similarities in language to what the district is already doing, and because district leadership felt that it was the model that best lined up with the district’s Classroom 10 philosophy that curriculum has been built around.

For Kent, which used the Danielson model for the past 10 years, the decision to switch to CEL was based in large part by the CEL model’s focus on closing the achievement gap, according to Jeff Pelzel, Meeker Junior High principal and president of the Kent principal’s union.

The state Legislature identified eight criteria on which to evaluate teachers and principals.

In the CEL model there are 37 points within those eight criteria on which teachers will be evaluated.

“The level of detail is much more, which I think, actually, is a good thing,” Koch said. “When I started teaching 20 years ago they handed me the book and said ‘Good luck.’ (Now) here’s a roadmap to guide people.”

For teachers the criteria are: centering instruction on high expectations for student achievement, demonstrating effective teaching, identifying and addressing student learning needs, clear and intentional focus on subject matter, fostering and managing a safe and positive learning environment, using data to improve student learning, communicating and collaborating with parents and the school community, and collaboration to improve student learning.

“I think the in-depth principal evaluations…to actually sit down and be there (in the classroom) for half an hour, an hour at a time, it’s helping (teachers) get deeper…it’s being able to get in the classroom and find the things that they’re doing great and looking at some of those things teachers can use professional development and grow in,” said Scott Mitchell, a fifth grade teacher at Shadow Lake Elementary and the president of Tahoma’s teacher union. “It (the new model) might point out some things as an entire staff that we need professional development in.”

The criteria for principals are: creating a school culture, ensuring school safety, planning with data, aligning curriculum, improving instruction, managing resources, engaging communities, and closing the achievement gap.

Both Tahoma and Kent were ahead of the curve, already using instructional models to drive curriculum and teaching. In that regard there are similarities between the old and new models. In Kent the new model will mean a unification of the emphasis on professional development district-wide, Pelzel said.

“The most important thing about the TPEP work (is) it will give the district a true instructional framework and everything will be filtered through that lens,” Pelzel said.

Pelzel said the new guidelines will challenge principals — even the best principals — to improve their building leadership skills.

“I think the feeling of principals is, ‘wow, it’s rigorous,’” Pelzel said. “The distinguished work will push the very best principals beyond where they are right now.”

For teachers both Pelzel and Mitchell felt that the increased emphasis on professional development will be one of the most beneficial aspects for teachers.

“I think that the general attitude among teachers is probably unsure,” Mitchell said. “We’ve had a couple videos that have shared the information. I think people are trying to anticipate what it is going to be like and nobody really knows. I think we’ll probably know more after a year. I think right now there are so many unanswered parts about it that they don’t know…I don’t hear a lot of stress about it though.”

Districts across the state have three years to transition all teachers and principals to the new system.

In both districts teachers who are in their first three years of teaching will automatically be moved to the new evaluation system for the 2013-2014 school year.

Both districts are also letting other teachers volunteer and apply to be moved to the new system next year.

“The bottom line is we have good teachers doing good things,” Koch said. “If teachers are clear on the target, kids will learn better.”