This week in NJ, new regulations were rolled out concerning teacher evaluation, which caused great angst across the state. Districts are attempting to put new evaluation tools in place this year and give them a "test drive" before they become official. This involves a lot of professional development time, in some districts all of the professional development time, in order to understand the evaluation tool and data management system and become well versed with them before state wide implementation in 2013-14. All this work on evaluation takes time away from other valuable professional development and causes stress over the implications of evaluation outcomes. Adding to this stress is poor communication, caused by the the lack of a shared language and limited understanding, which has put both teachers and administrators on edge.
Let me say here that I believe new evaluations are necessary, and if implemented properly, can help guide teachers in their development as practitioners. They are a good thing, and it is about time someone gave me some real analysis of my teaching and not just a narration of what they saw in class.
However, evaluation reform has received so much press because of the high stakes attached to it that the flash-bang created by media coverage has blinded people from seeing the elephant in the room, Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and their implementation.
I like the CCSS and think there is merit in mastering the skills needed to be proficient or advanced proficient in any standard. In NJ, we have rolled out CCSS implementation this year and not in a gradual way. We didn't adopt the standards grade by grade as some states have, or even by subject area. We went whole hog, and therein lies the rub. With so much time spent trying to learn the new evaluation systems, we are seriously lacking in professional development for CCSS. How many media centers have sufficient non-fiction resources to be able to have 30 students at a time compare several texts and identify central ideas? How many math departments have enough manipulatives to give each class member enough so they can demonstrate their answers through modeling? How many districts have reading specialists (an area of shortage) to help teachers in areas like social studies, science and CTE teach their students close reading strategies? How many districts have looked at vertical articulation between grades to determine what your students should know when they get to you and what they will be learning in the next grade level?
CCSS implementation with fewer and deeper standards require a shift in the way we teach, the curriculum we use, the time we spend and the materials we need to be successful. It is not something that can be mastered in a half-day inservice's worth of professional development. It takes time, collaboration, support and resources. In a recent EdWeek article from February 27th, Teachers Feel Unprepared for the Common Core Standards, by EPE Research Center, it finds that teachers are unprepared to teach some of our students who need the most help including, low income, English language learners and students with disabilities. Our teachers have many of the same concerns.
In NJ, there is a belief that CCSS have been implemented and are being used with fidelity throughout the state, but that is just not true. Teachers have questions and want to know in their content-specific areas what the CCSS look like when implemented cohesively and comprehensively. Can you identify the level of work that makes a student proficient or advanced proficient in your content area? How about proficient versus partially proficient? I know at this point I cannot, and I am a Teacher of the Year. Can your administrators tell the difference between the varying levels of proficiency in student work? Do they know what advanced proficient looks like in physics, art, music, or physical education? What about welding, auto mechanics, health occupations, cosmetology or entertainment technology? Last time I checked, cosmetology and CNA licensing were not based on the CCSS. Can your administration tell what it looks like to teach a CCSS aligned lesson where the students will need to work independently without the teacher directing all parts of the lesson, or collaborate, which may often look like chaos in the classroom?
Here is why I am worried.
Our new evaluations for non-tested grades and subjects are 85% observation and 15% Student Growth Objectives (SGO). What is being observed and measured? The answer is how well you are implementing the CCSS, because that is what the evaluation instruments are aligning to. When you set your student growth objective, what is it based on? Either students passing an assessment, which should be Common Core aligned, or the ability to measure how proficient your students are on a particular Common Core standard.
If you are in a tested area, 50% of your evaluation is based on observation, 35% is Student Growth Percentiles (SGP) based on the NJASK, and the final 15% is based on SGOs. The NJASK will soon be replaced by the PARCC assessment, which is based on CCSS, your observation will be based on CCSS and your SGO will be based on CCSS.
Do you start to see the problem? We are measuring something that most teachers have not been adequately trained to do, and do not have the proper supports and resources in place to be successful.
We have been so blinded by the flash-bang of evaluation that we are worrying more about how we will be evaluated than the content we will be evaluated on. Big mistake.
Ready, fire, aim.