Island teachers get first reports under new review system

Former superintendent of schools James Weiss has joined the board of the Permanent Endowment Fund. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

Widespread rumors that Island teachers have grieved their mid-year preliminary evaluations under the new state-mandated educator evaluation system are not true, superintendent of schools James Weiss said this week. He also said he would not be surprised if there were some formal grievances lodged, as he thinks some teachers may be upset with the results.

“There are some folks that are less than overjoyed with the new process, because it’s a very demanding one,” Mr. Weiss said in a phone conversation with The Times on Tuesday. “And I sense that there are going to be continued discussions, as we’ve had all year to refine it. But I have not received a grievance.”

State mandate

The state school board adopted new regulations for the evaluation of all Massachusetts educators, including administrators and teachers, on June 28, 2011. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) required school districts such as the Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS) that received state Race to the Top Funds (RTTF) to implement the new educator evaluation system in the 2012-2013 school year.

Under the new system, student learning and educator practice are linked to determine performance ratings for administrators, from superintendents to principals, as well as for teachers.

The educator evaluation system includes four broad statewide standards for administrators and teachers. Teachers are evaluated on curriculum, planning, and assessment; teaching all students; family and community engagement; and professional culture.

Four ratings for performance levels include exemplary, proficient, needs improvement, and unsatisfactory.

The new evaluation system uses a chart that links impact on student learning to educator practice. If teachers teach an MCAS subject, MCAS will be one of the determinants of their ratings for their impact on student learning.

The new system is not tied to compensation. However, a teacher or administrator with poor ratings in educator practice and/or student achievement and who does not demonstrate improvement in a subsequent year could lose his or her job.

According to the DESE regulations, a teacher with a low rating in impact on student learning would be put on a growth plan and be given one year to change his or her practice.

The new system is a big change from teacher evaluations in the past, especially for MVPS, which had developed its own method about four years ago. Previously, on Martha’s Vineyard and elsewhere, teacher evaluations focused on classroom observation and a checklist of topics such as instruction, professionalism, and the classroom environment.

Significant changes

MVPS teachers received their first formative assessment under the new system about a week before school vacation began on February 25. Mr. Weiss said there are two significant changes that may have caused concern for some teachers.

“Number one is that the standards are very specific about the things that teachers are supposed to be doing,” he said. “And if they’re not doing it, we need to let them know that they’re supposed to be doing it. In the past it has not been quite as concrete as that.”

The second change is a requirement for evidence or documentation. Some teachers’ evaluations included requests for additional documentation on a given topic.

“For some people, that really freaked them out,” Mr. Weiss said. “So I’m sensing there are probably some people who are concerned. And that’s okay. But hopefully we’ll be able to work through this.”

Both teachers and administrators gather evidence, then exchange and discuss it, Mr. Weiss added. Evidence gathered by administrators includes reports on two kinds of classroom visits, formal observations, either announced or unannounced, and walk-throughs, which are five- to 10-minute visits on a regular basis, Mr. Weiss said.

The new evaluation system includes a built-in grievance procedure, he added.

“If a teacher feels that there is something wrong with one of the documents he or she received, either the formative assessment, which is what we just completed, or the final evaluation, there is a process they use to refute it,” Mr. Weiss said. “So I’m not sure what’s out there at the moment, although I do sense that some people are concerned, and I get that.”

Grievance process

Teachers also have the option of a regular grievance process in accordance with contracts negotiated by their educator associations. Mr. Weiss said he has not received any regular grievances or ones through the evaluation system.

“I will be willing to guarantee that at some point, I’m going to get something from somebody, but I haven’t gotten it yet,” he added.

Martha’s Vineyard has two professional educator associations. Teachers from the Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury school districts belong to the Martha’s Vineyard Educators Association (MVEA). Since the high school teachers and West Tisbury School and Chilmark School teachers work in the Island’s two regional school districts, they belong to the Martha’s Vineyard Regional Teachers and Educators Association (MVRTEA).

Although the associations differ in membership, their representatives negotiate as one team for five bargaining units for teachers, education support professionals, secretaries, custodians, and cafeteria workers. Teachers voted to ratify a new contract agreement on February 4 and the All-Island School Committee on February 6.

Mr. Weiss said since the All-Island School Committee voted to adopt the state’s new Educator Evaluation Model last May, the new teachers’ contract will include the DESE’s model contract language for local collective bargaining.

Recognizing that the new evaluation system is more time-consuming, Mr. Weiss said adjustments have been made in areas such as professional development days.

“The January day that we always have, we’ve said to teachers, that’s your day,” he said. “You can come up with documentation, you can work on curriculum, you can come up with evidence. We want you to move the education evaluation process forward. We’re trying to be realistic about these kinds of things.”

Mr. Weiss said he and his staff have met with the educators’ associations once a month since last May.

“I haven’t heard a lot of consternation about it,” he said. “But people just got their first assessment, and that could have thrown some people over the edge.”

When contacted by The Times for comment, MVEA co-president Megan Farrell, and MVRTEA president Juanita Espino each said she had no comment on whether teachers had expressed to her concerns about the new evaluation system.