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New Teacher Evaluation System Underway in Schools

Teachers in the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District are nearing completion of their first evaluation of the year under a new system which is tied to a major overhaul in the district's curriculum under the revised "No Child Left Behind" federal legislation. That legislation revised the standards which students must meet and on the state level will alter how students will be evaluated on the MCAS exam.

Teachers have undergone the initial steps in their evaluation process and their final assessments will be made in the next few weeks. The district has been on a crash course since last summer to revise its curriculum, the way it evaluates students and to assess teacher performance in light of changes to the No Child Left Behind legislation. Under the new teacher evaluation system, a five-step cycle has been adopted which includes goal-setting by the teacher and evaluators, implementation of a teaching plan based on the goals established and then an assessment on how well those goals were met.

The teaching plan and goals are based on four standards which teachers will strive to achieve during the year. Those four standards include curriculum and planning; teaching all students; family and community engagement; and professional culture. Each standard has multiple elements and the teacher's overall evaluation is based on how well those elements have been met during the year. The district's revised curriculum was unveiled last summer and teachers established their goals for the year last October. After October teachers and evaluators began to gather "evidence" of what teachers did to implement the goals established for them. Such evidence would include records of communication with parents, photos of instruction, students working or classroom materials used; samples of students' work, test results including any from MCAS testing, and minutes or other materials from a team or departmental meeting.

In addition to gathering evidence, teachers will also be graded on "mini-observations" whereby evaluators go unannounced to the classroom and sit in and observe the teacher and the interaction with students. Immediate feedback is given to the teacher shortly after these mini-observations. Teachers will also be graded on their participation in staff meetings and other school events.

Once mini-observations are held and teachers gather evidence of what they did, a final assessment of the teacher is developed. That assessment will rate a teacher on a scale of one to four. The top rating is "Exemplary;" a good rating is "Proficient;" and the other two ratings are "Needs Improvement" and "Unsatisfactory." A team of evaluators including the building principal and assistant principal, PPS Director and the Director of Learning, Curriculum and Accountability Kerry Clery develops the final assessment of each teacher.

Interim Superintendent Anthony Bent said the new teacher evaluation system is "a quantum leap from anything I've seen before." Clery who gave the presentation and update on the teacher evaluation system to the school committee introduced Cheryl McCobb who gave an account of her experience undergoing the new evaluation process. McCobb said, at first, after the new system was explained to teachers it was very "overwhelming." However, she noted that as time passed, she realized that teachers were already doing the things that evaluators were looking at in assessing teachers. "If you're using good teaching practices, then it is not so overwhelming," she said. "We're learning...and we're using iPhones to take photos (of our work). As we learn more, it will get easier...little by little, it becomes more manageable." McCobb also noted that at the beginning, the process is time-consuming for teachers. Clery noted that teachers are already doing most of the things required of them. She also noted that new teachers will need more time to learn the procedure than experienced teachers.

School Committee member Jim Frey asked how the district would judge the effectiveness of the new system. Clery replied that administrators would constantly evaluate the program and make adjustments as required. Some School Committee members wanted to know if the new teacher evaluation system would translate to better student scores on MCAS testing. However, School Committee member Berta Erickson stated that the district is at the formative level in the new system and that the process will evolve over the next several years. Interim Superintendent Bent stated, "We'll have to 'tweak' it some...but (the new system) hasn't played out yet."

Frey said the new system is very positive and it represented a balanced approach. "The end result is better learning for children," he said.

Groton Herald

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