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Educator evaluations go deeper

East Side districts will help implement system

A chance at Race to the Top federal grants prompted Washington legislators to pass a law mandating more-detailed teacher and principal evaluations for K-12 schools, starting in 2013.

But state officials and educators agree the new evaluation was needed anyway. It will replace an outdated system that doesn’t address the current education situation and standards, and give teachers and principals more specific areas where they may need improvement. The result is expected to be a better learning environment for students.

Several Eastern Washington school districts were chosen to lead the way by establishing parameters for the new program. Central Valley School District is the largest area district that will be figuring out how to put the system in place. A consortium of smaller districts also is involved, including Pullman, Davenport, Medical Lake, Reardan-Edwall and Wilbur.

“This is a piece of the puzzle to increasing student achievement … and us all getting better in our practice,” said Helene Paroff, assistant superintendent for NorthEast Education Service District – a state-authorized organization that provides cooperative services to public and private schools – which will oversee the consortium of smaller districts. “Everyone believes that the evaluations will bring important feedback and good information.”

According to a report released by Partnership for Learning – a business- and community-supported Washington nonprofit – “teacher and principal effectiveness has a greater impact on student learning than any other factor in a school system.”

A collaborative training for the pilot schools is set to begin next month.

The CV district and the consortium will receive a state grant between $100,000 and $180,000 annually for two years. The first year will involve research and planning. The evaluations will start in the pilot schools during the 2011-’12 school year.

“Our hope is this will be a professional growth tool and will provide us benchmarks,” said Terrie Vanderwegen, assistant superintendent for learning and teaching with Central Valley School District. Also, “the research will help us determine what most greatly affects students’ success.”

The current two-tier evaluation system has ratings such as satisfactory and non-satisfactory. The new system will have four tiers, which educators believe will allow for more specificity about needed improvements.

The legislation that made the evaluations law already includes some of the criteria.

For classroom teachers, it includes recognizing individual student learning needs and developing strategies to address them; using data to modify instruction and improve student learning; and communicating and collaborating with parents and the school community.

For principals, it includes leading the development, implementation and evaluation of a data-driven plan for increasing student achievement; and monitoring, assisting and evaluating effective instruction and assessment practices.

Part of the pilot schools’ responsibility is to better define the criteria.

The new evaluation system will take lots of training, education officials say, but the outcome will be worth it.

“One of the things that we (Washington educators) know and agree on is that the current system is old and needs updating,” said Michaela Miller, teacher and principal evaluation project manager for the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. “We need to develop a more robust evaluation system. This new system will help teachers and principals develop better practices. I think everyone is really excited about this.”

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