In late March, the N.J. Department of Education (NJDOE) released a Notice of Grant Opportunity (NGO) for up to 20 additional districts to participate in the second year of the pilot teacher evaluation program. The 10 districts participating in the first pilot program can continue with the pilot program in year two, with reduced funding.
Due to federal funding requirements, two separate NGO’s are available for districts. One NGO is for districts with 100 percent of their schools receiving Title I funds; a second grant opportunity is available for all other districts except the districts in Pilot 1. Each NGO will select up to 10 districts – for a maximum of 30 districts in Cohort Two (10 original pilot districts and 20 new pilot districts.)
The proposed teacher evaluation system is based on Gov. Chris Christie’s task force recommendations, including:
- Annual teacher evaluations based on standards of effective teacher practices.
- Multiple measures of teacher performance and student performance, with student academic progress or growth as a key measure.
- A summative rating that combines the scores of all the measures of teaching practice and student achievement.
- Four summative rating categories (highly effective, effective, partially effective, ineffective) that clearly differentiates levels of performance.
- A link from evaluation to professional development that meets the needs of educators at all levels of practice.
The state hopes that fifty percent of the new evaluation system will be based on measures of student achievement, and fifty percent will be based on measures of teacher practice.
New pilot requires unannounced observations and distinguishes between “core” and “non-core” teachers
The grant application for cohort Two is similar to the first pilot, with a few important exceptions. Districts chosen to participate in Cohort Two will be required to implement features that were not included in the first pilot, such as:
- Unannounced observations are required.
- There is more flexibility on the duration and number of observations.
- Cohort Two categorizes teachers into two categories – core and non-core. Core teachers are teachers in grades K-5, and secondary teachers in math, language arts, science and social studies. Non-core teachers are all other teachers.
- At least two observations for core teachers must be unannounced; one for non-core teachers.
- The number of observations differs for teachers of core and non-core subjects. Nontenured teachers in core subjects will be evaluated five times per school year (tenured teachers will be observed four times). Nontenured teachers in non-core areas will be evaluated three times (tenured teachers will be observed two times).
- Unlike Cohort One, the duration of observations has also been predetermined by the grant, and also differentiates between core and non-core teachers. Nontenured core teachers will be evaluated for at least 105 minutes; tenured core teachers for at least 90 minutes. Nontenured non-core teachers will be evaluated less – at least 60 minutes. Tenured non-core teachers will be observed at least 45 minutes.
- No single observation can be less than 15 minutes.
- New observation processes are required to ensure inter-rater agreement and accuracy between rates, including the use of external observers (an evaluator not from the teacher’s school) and double-scoring of some sessions.
Training requirements also differ
Unlike the first cohort, the NGO for Cohort Two did not specify the required amount of time teachers or administrators must be trained. The first pilot required administrators to be trained for at least three full days, and teachers for at least two full days. The training requirement in Cohort Two indicates that the training must be “rigorous and comprehensive” – but no specific amount of training is required.
In addition, there are no requirements for informal observations in Cohort Two, which were required in cohort one. Since administrators have the right to do informal observations as necessary according to state regulations, this is essentially left to the discretion of the administrator.
Applications were due at the end of April and the state is expected to notify the winning districts in June. Districts receiving the grant must convene a district evaluation committee before they apply for the grant, select a teacher practice framework by the summer, develop and implement a communications plan, and coordinate their training in the model with their district professional development plan by Sept. 30.
There are no specific deadlines for other grant activities, although the state is recommending that training be completed and observations begin by Oct. 1. Districts in Cohort Two must provide comprehensive training and coaching for teachers and administrators prior to conducting observations, develop or procure additional measures of student achievement (in addition to state test scores), communicate regularly with the NJDOE on their progress, and cooperate with the department’s external researcher.
NJEA raises concerns
NJEA has several concerns about the new requirements in cohort two and has raised them with NJDOE staff. While not specifically referenced in the grant application, the department is advising districts that they may employ independent contractors to conduct observations. These individuals have no legal authority to weigh in on personnel matters.
In addition, categorizing teachers as core and non-core teachers creates the impression that some teachers are more important than other teachers. NJEA believes that evaluation procedures must be consistently applied to all teachers.
The lack of specificity regarding the amount of time administrators and teachers must be trained in the model frameworks could encourage districts to take short cuts in the amount and quality of training. Requiring training to be rigorous and comprehensive is subjective. Teachers in the first year of the pilot reported that training was an essential part of a successful transition to a new evaluation system (see related article, “Opportunities and Obstacles”).
NJEA will continue to monitor cohort two, providing training and assistance to local associations to advocate for members and the profession.