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State changing educator ratings

Sun., March 13, 2011, midnight

New system grades eight areas on four-point scale

SEATTLE – While their students can earn anything from an A to an F for their school performance, nearly every American teacher gets one of two grades – unsatisfactory or meets expectations – and almost all earn a passing grade.

That is about to change in Washington and many other states where more nuanced teacher evaluation systems are being developed, at least partly in response to the federal Race to the Top competition.

Last year, a handful of Washington school districts were given money and help to update both teacher and principal evaluations. Washington did not get money from the federal government to help pay for this or any other education reform idea, but the legislature and the governor wanted school districts to go ahead with this school reform effort.

To give teachers and principals more useful feedback, the new system will grade them on a four-point scale. All Washington districts are required to adopt new systems in the 2013-’14 school year.

Last year, the legislature decided eight criteria must be used to evaluate teachers. The criteria: High expectations, effective teaching practices, recognizing individual student learning needs, focus on subject matter, safe and productive learning environment, use of multiple student data elements to modify instruction, communicating with parents and the school community, and collaboration.

The vagueness of the legislature’s instructions, leaving much room for interpretation by individual school districts, has made the process more difficult for the districts, said Charlotte Danielson, an educational consultant from Princeton, N.J., who was hired by state education officials to guide districts.

“I don’t think anyone gave them a heads-up about what they would need for a viable system,” Danielson said.

Fourth-grade teacher Lindsay Ehlers has been teaching for 10 years in the Central Valley School District and has always gotten an evaluation of “meets expectations.” Does that mean she’s a good teacher?

“I don’t think it matters if you’ve been teaching one year or 10 year or 20 years, there’s always things you can refine and do better to help kids,” said Ehlers, who teaches at Liberty Lake Elementary and is on the committee putting together a new four-level evaluation tool for Central Valley.

Ehlers said one of the best parts of creating a new evaluation system is that it has forced the administration to be specific about what good teaching looks like. She said it will also help teachers reflect on their work and have more concrete goals for where they should be going.

“I’m sure there will be some teachers that this is a not a growth experience for,” Ehlers acknowledged.

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