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Teacher feedback helps kids succeed in school

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August26/ 2013

Teacher evaluations have always been crucial for Pittsburgh Public Schools, but now they will actually be useful, says a new report by A+ Schools.

Amy Scott, director of research and data analysis for A+, the nonprofit advocate for Pittsburgh school improvement, says the district and its teachers union have been collaborating for nearly five years on a new teacher evaluation system that takes best evaluation practices into account. They examined what evaluation methods held up over time and across evaluations, actually measuring the right factors and helping teachers improve.

The new system uses a mix of classroom observations, student growth data (including, but not limited to, test results) and student surveys of teachers to assess teacher performance. A state law, Act 82, which takes effect this fall, mandates that teacher evaluations be based 50 percent on classroom observations and 50 percent on student outcomes. “Pittsburgh has specifically created a model that tries to take into consideration its student population,” controlling for each student’s family-income level, special education or gifted student status and other factors, Scott notes.

 

Teachers will be given ratings of distinguished, proficient, needs improvement or failing. Those in the latter two categories will need to take part in a performance improvement plan. Any teacher with a second “needs improvement” within a decade of the first such rating may be subject to district action.

Pittsburgh teachers got their first evaluation scores this year, which will give them a year to improve their practice, if needed. Scott believes the district is the only one in the state to act ahead of time. Eighty-five percent of city teachers were in the distinguished or proficient categories, she says, and 15 percent fell into the needs improvement or failing categories. Act 82 calls for principal evaluations in 2014-15.

The evaluation system is still “not perfect,” Scott allows, so the district and union “should continue to work hard on improving the system so it can be more meaningful, so our teachers can continue to help our students succeed. The journey is not ended yet.”

As the report concludes: “PPS should track the extent to which teachers find feedback from multiple measures helpful and actionable for improving their practice and create mechanisms to adjust feedback accordingly.”

“The evaluation is really a teacher improvement system,” Scott adds, and should lead to teachers participating in more professional development courses and workshops and prompt them to view helpful online videos, seek extra feedback and generally work toward increasing their effectiveness. “We see that as very promising – especially because what matters the most here are our students and their outcomes.”

 

Writer: Marty Levine

Source: Amy Scott, director of research and data analysis for A+ Schools

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