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Petaluma Schools Discuss Revamping Teacher Evaluations

Two of the city's largest school districts want to reward great teachers while giving more support to struggling ones and say students will only benefit from the changes.

Two of Petaluma’s largest school districts are looking at ways to revamp teacher evaluations in hopes of boosting student achievement.

Earlier this month, teachers and administrators at began meeting to discuss how to improve evaluations, which now consist of just two categories—satisfactory or needs improvement—and a short narrative evaluation section.

“Teacher evaluations have not done what they are supposed to do, which is distinguish whether someone is outstanding or needs extra support,” said Ron Everett, the director of human resources at the district.

“We know that the teacher is the strongest component of a student’s success and it’s our responsibility to take all things into account and find strategies that meet the needs of our students, whether they come to kindergarten reading or don’t even speak English.”

As Petaluma City Schools works to modernize the evaluation process, it’s looking to nearby Novato Unified School District, which went through an evaluation revamp last year.

Under Novato’s new system, teachers will be reviewed using categories ranging from distinguished to ineffective, along with definitions about what each category means. The evaluations will also consider everything from teacher collaboration to quiz scores and progress to graduation, although it will not include standardized test results.

“It was a wonderful collaborative process that allowed us to talk about what good teaching looks like, look at best practices and then implement it on a pilot basis,” said Pam Conklin, director of human resources at Novato Unified School District. “It’s through that discourse that you can develop a tool that has more relevance and meaning in terms of improving the learning experience for our kids.”

Over at Old Adobe, Superintendent Cindy Pillar said her district had formed a committee of teachers and administrators interested in revamping evaluations.

“We’re still in the investigations phase, but the idea is ‘How do we give more meaningful feedback to teachers rather just a checked box?’," she said.

Everyone agrees that making evaluations more thorough is important.

But whenever legislation has sought to tie teacher evaluations to student performance, it has been met with criticism, with unions arguing that teachers should not be penalized for students who don’t do well in class.

In California, the most recent attempt came in the form of Assembly Bill 5, authored by Felipe Fuentes, D-Sylmar. The bill, which was scrapped earlier this month, wanted to add a performance level to all evaluations and make standardized tests optional in measuring teachers. But it would have also forced districts to negotiate with teacher unions over how teachers were evaluated, which critics said would weaken evaluation procedures.

Teachers and parents, we want to hear from you! Do you favor a new and more thorough teacher evaluation process? And should it be connected to student achievement? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Active Thinker September 13, 2012 at 09:15 PM
How is it if you work in the private sector we get checked on all of the time...yet BAD teachers stay in the system...parents and teachers alike know of just a few really bad apples who have been allowed to continue to teach our kids...checks and balances
The Fool September 14, 2012 at 05:10 AM
Because when we try to measure teachers, inevitably, the specter of standardized test scores come into the picture. Besides, any discussion of teacher evaluation without pointing out the need to devote more money to public education is akin to evaluating the placement of deck chairs on, well, you get the point...

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