Report: One-quarter of N.J. teachers rated below levels needed to keep tenure
More than a quarter of teachers who were reviewed in a two-year pilot program of the state’s new evaluation system were rated only “partially effective” or worse, levels that place their tenure at risk, according to a new report.
Early results of the controversial teacher evaluations will be discussed in Trenton today, when the Evaluation Pilot Advisory Committee’s report is presented at the monthly state Board of Education meeting.
The report chronicles the state’s testing of the new evaluation system, which is being used in every school district this year.
Dorothy Strickland, retired professor of Rutgers University and a member of the state board of education, said she is optimistic about the findings, which show the majority of teachers, three-quarters, were rated at the levels required to retain their tenure.
“The report, and the process, is largely positive and hopeful,” Strickland, who also served on the advisory committee, said. “It’s a challenge for everyone, at a pedagogical level and at an emotional level.”
The pilot program involved more than 7,300 teachers in 219 schools in 30 districts around the state. While small, the sample included the large urban district of Elizabeth, suburban systems like Piscataway and Rockaway Township, and small districts like Alexandria Township.
The teacher evaluation process is the keystone of the TEACHNJ teacher tenure reform law signed by Gov. Chris Christie last year. The new system is based on classroom observation, student goals and standardized tests scores.
The ratings categories are divided into four levels: ineffective, partially effective, effective and highly effective. The data show that 3 percent of the teachers who were evaluated in both years of the pilot program received a rating of ineffective, the lowest, while 25 percent were rated partially effective.
TENURE AT RISK
In the group that was evaluated for one year, 1 percent was deemed ineffective, 13 percent partially effective, 82 percent were effective and 4 percent were highly effective. Teachers who receive ineffective or partially effective ratings for two consecutive years are at risk of losing tenure.
The difference between the two groups is thought to be the result of familiarity with the system, according to the report.
“With time, greater understanding of the observation framework and more practice, observers will increase their ability to identify nuances in teacher practice,” the report states.
Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark), sponsor of the TEACHNJ, said while she had not yet seen the report, she was not surprised to learn of the overwhelmingly positive teacher ratings.
“It seems to indicate one thing we already knew: We have extraordinary professionals teaching our children,” Ruiz said, adding that the evaluations were intended to support teachers and improve classroom learning.
FOCUS ON GROWTH
The new evaluations are based on a combination of teacher practice and student achievement, which includes the controversial use of standardized test scores. A formula known as the “student growth percentile” uses test data to measure student growth from one year to the next. This formula can account for up to 35 percent of a teacher’s rating.
The report also details the changes made to the evaluation system as it was being tested. For example, the committee tinkered with number of categories used to record classroom observation in the first year of the program. It also adjusted the number of pre-announced and unannounced classroom visits based on teacher experience.
“The teachers, principals, supervisors, superintendents on this committee, they had a lot to say and they were listened to,” Strickland said.
The report depicts a complicated and time-consuming system that combines uniform standards with some flexibility for implementation. The committee noted the flexibility was imperative “in a state with over 590 school districts, an incredible diversity of schools, students, and teachers, troubling socioeconomic inequality and a significant student achievement gap.”
Strickland said she expects the process to continue to change and adapt to feedback from the schools.
“The process is still unnerving for people, and they are a little, or perhaps more than a little suspicious of the state,” she said. “But I’m excited about the possibilities.”