A year ahead of the curve, the Nicolet and Fox Point-Bayside school districts are putting teacher evaluation models, which will change the way education works in Wisconsin, to the test.
In November 2011, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction released a framework for revamped teacher reviews, divided 50/50 between student performance and teacher practices. Nicolet and Fox Point-Bayside are among a number of Wisconsin districts participating in an initial pilot phase in the 2012-13 school year before the DPI rolls out a statewide pilot next year.
As part of the state's Educator Effectiveness Task Force, two staff members from Nicolet and five from Fox Point-Bayside have participated in workshops to help refine details and fill out the frameworks laid out by the DPI last fall - to their benefit, say administrators.
"We have an influence, and we have a conduit into what's going on at the state level," said Nicolet Superintendent Rick Monroe.
The new evaluation process will affect staffing decisions such as which courses teachers have and what grade level they teach. In place of teacher seniority, which was removed from the equation by the state legislature in 2011, the new evaluations could influence layoffs and staff reductions as well - though results of the pilot evaluations won't be factored into those types of decisions until the new model becomes law in 2014-15.
"Ultimately, it will decide and inform a variety of human resource decisions," said Lisa Elliott, Nicolet curriculum and instruction director.
Though there has been talk of tying the new evaluations to overall compensation or merit pay, those systems have not been worked out yet and would need to be approved by school boards on a per-district basis.
One half of the new teacher evaluation model, under the umbrella term "teacher practices," is a nuanced rubric based almost entirely on teacher effectiveness expert Charlotte Danielson's 2011 "Framework for Teaching," which breaks down teacher evaluations into four domains: planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction, and professional responsibilities.
Within those four domains are a number of criteria which evaluators like Elliott will look for when they drop in on teachers throughout the year in a mixture of a planned visit, a few unannounced visits, and a number of quick visits.
The purpose of the visits is to make observations that lead to subsequent judgments on each teacher's effectiveness, say Elliott and Stormonth Elemtary Principal Dan Westphal.
"I really like the evidence-based piece," Westphal said. "If you give a teacher a particular rating, you have evidence to back up that rating."
Along with the observations come meetings between teachers, peer reviewers, and administrators, which they say creates an added level of self-reflection, experimentation, and focus.
"It allows (teachers) to step out and try something new," said Westphal, "and it allows us to center our conversations on a single target."
The DPI guidelines allow for districts to come up with their own versions of the teacher practices rubric, though, like the Danielson model, they would need to be research- and evidence-based. Nicolet and Fox Point-Bayside administrators commented that they intend to use the Danielson model.
Principals will also be reviewed as part of the evaluation process, based on Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium standards. Training on that part of the evaluation model will begin in the coming months.
The other half of the new model, called "student outcomes," is comprised of state and district test results, goals set by teachers and approved by administrators, schoolwide reading at the elementary and middle school level, graduation rate at the high school level, and data chosen by districts measuring overall goals.
As part of the process, Nicolet teachers - individually or as teams - and administrators are working to come up with student learning objectives for the end of the school year, as well as ways to measure progress.
Elliott noted that goals can't be too narrow in their scope, and if they're "set too high or too low, or the measurement is inappropriate, we have a conversation about that."
She added that the goals are meant to be less of a ranking tool and more of a motivator for teachers.
"It's really a professional growth model for educators to really hone or improve their performance," Elliott said.
While teachers in the Nicolet pilot only need to come up with one specific goal, Elliott said, more will be required to when the model is solidified in 2014.
Perhaps the best parts of being in the pilot will be the added familiarity and comfort teachers will have with the new model.
"That's (how) we feel as a staff right now. We know it's coming from the state, so this gives us a heads up," Westphal said.
"Being part of the pilot allows us to have a vision for the future and have conversations early on, so there isn't that surprise."
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