The new evaluation system has been an arduous undertaking for all educators. But for special educators in various roles, there are a few additional considerations. While the rules are essentially the same for general education and special education teachers, child study team members, related service providers and specialists follow separate language in statute and state regulations. Moreover, their evaluations may look different from district to district based upon local policies. So what are some of the distinctions in special education?
The N.J. Department of Education has recommended that district leaders, evaluators and teachers engage in collaborative discussions prior to conducting observations. During these critical conversations, teachers should highlight the specialized instruction, modifications and adaptations they use and connect them to indicators on their district’s evaluation rubric. Furthermore, participants should talk about the evidence or artifacts that will best demonstrate teacher practice. During this collaboration, varied teaching roles and strategies may also be described.
In pre-observation conferences, teachers have an opportunity to provide background information and describe individual student needs. They should draw attention to the methods of differentiated instruction. Additionally, positive behavioral supports and behavior management techniques may be shared. Individual Education Program (IEP) goals are not the same as Student Growth Objectives (SGOs). Nonetheless, IEP goals may be used to inform SGOs. Special educators are always monitoring student progress on IEP goals. These goals are developed by the IEP Team and focus on individual learning needs. SGOs, on the other hand, are developed by teachers in collaboration with administrators and are created for groups of students based upon the curriculum.
All teachers who have Student Growth Percentiles (SGPs) need to be certain that their student rosters are accurate. For some special educators, student attribution to a roster is not clear-cut. District policies should address the methods used to attribute students to a special education teacher’s roster such as for in-class resource or pull-out support classes.
Several of the provisions of the TEACHNJ Act apply to child study team, related service providers and specialists including: a four year timeline to attain tenure; three observations for nontenured staff; four rating categories; individualized professional development plans; corrective action plans (CAPs) for those rated partially effective or ineffective; and an arbitration process for tenure revocation.
As long as districts comply with these requirements, latitude is given in evaluating these staff members. Here are some ways that their evaluations may differ:
• Multiple measures of performance are not required.
• Use of student achievement measures is not mandated.
• The number of observations and observation length are not specified, except that the superintendent shall determine the duration of the three observations required for nontenured holders of educational services certificates.
• Districts may use existing evaluation tools, adopt or adapt rubrics from providers, or create new systems.
• District evaluation policies and procedures must be adopted annually. Like those for all other teaching staff members, evaluation rubrics for educational services professionals must be submitted to the commissioner of education for approval by June 1 each year.
With all of these complexities, local associations serve an important function by providing information, support and advocacy. That’s why it’s critical that NJEA members work with their local association’s evaluation committee. The School Improvement Panel (ScIP) and/or District Evaluation Advisory Committee (DEAC) can also provide information about local policies.
All members are encouraged to engage in the process. Special educators should not hesitate to offer feedback to their association about what is working and about how their district’s evaluation practices impact them.
Camy Kobylinski is an NJEA associate director of professional development and instructional issues. Contact her below.