Martha’s Vineyard earns top marks in statewide educator evaluations

A number of repairs to the heating system at the Chilmark school have to be done. – MV Times file photo

The vast majority of Island teachers ranked proficient in performance ratingsreleased last Thursday by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

Within those numbers, a percentage of teachers earned exemplary ratings, ranging from 1.9 percent in the Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD), which includes West Tisbury School and Chilmark School, to 15.2 percent in the Edgartown School. Teachers ranked proficient ranged from 82 percent to 95 percent among Island schools.

Teachers ranked in the needs improvement category included 2.2 percent at Edgartown School, 6.5 percent at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, (MVRHS), and 7.7 percent in the UIRSD.

Three years ago, the state’s board of ESE adopted regulations that place educator practice and student learning at the center of evaluations, according to a press release. All educators, including superintendents, principals, and teachers, take part in a five-part evaluation cycle that includes self-assessment; analysis, goal setting and plan development; implementation of the plan; a formative assessment/evaluation; and a summative evaluation.

Every educator evaluated in 2013-14 received a summative performance rating of exemplary, proficient, needs improvement, or unsatisfactory. There were 279 teachers, including both those with professional status and those with non-professional status, evaluated in Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS) and 12 at Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School (MVPCS), according to school and district profiles available on the DESE website.

“I haven’t had a chance to look at the results in great depth, however I’m struck by the large percentage of our teachers, in the high eighties and nineties, who are ranked proficient, which is what you would want,” MVPS superintendent James Weiss told The Times in a phone call Monday. “There is a small number, anywhere from 4 or 5 to 10 to 15 percent, ranked exemplary, and that doesn’t surprise me.

“We have some outstanding teachers, and although being rated an exemplary teacher under these standards is extremely hard to get, some people did,” Mr. Weiss added. “There are a few folks who need improvement — many of them are new teachers, but not all — and there’s nobody on the list, looking at all the zeroes that I see, that is unsatisfactory.”

Some data for districts and schools, including MVPCS, was not included in last week’s report. For confidentiality reasons, the DESE did not post performance ratings for individual educators, nor for schools or districts where fewer than six staff members were evaluated, or in cases where all staff evaluated in the same group received the same rating, or when all educators were evaluated and a single educator had a different rating than the rest.

In an email response to a request from The Times for comment about the Charter School teachers’ results, MVPCS director Bob Moore said, “The faculty at the Charter School is talented, highly knowledgeable of their curriculum, and bring multiple strategies to the classroom to ensure positive growth for each of their students.”

State and local results

Statewide, close to 71,700 educators in 372 districts were evaluated using systems aligned to the new state framework in the 2013-14 school year, according to a DESE press release dated November 13.

“Massachusetts leads the nation in student achievement, and our educators are the driving force behind those results,” Secretary of Education Matthew Malone said in the release. “We know that these evaluations help educators inform their practice and will positively impact student outcomes.”

Mr. Weiss said that using the new system has involved a learning curve.                           “I think it’s a process that we’re trying to get teachers to understand all of the standards, and teaching is more than any one of those things,” he said. “It’s how you work with kids, it’s how you work with other professionals, how you communicate with the larger community and parents, all of those things.”

And as Mr. Weiss noted last year, the evaluation results are affected by many factors, including how experienced a teacher or educator is.

Principals and assistant principals did the evaluations at the elementary school level. At the high school, the evaluators included the principal, two assistant principals, and directors of guidance, special education, and vocational education. The superintendent’s staff was involved in some of the educator evaluations, as well.

Among the results, those rated as exemplary were: 15.2 percent of the teachers evaluated at Edgartown School, 5.7 percent at Oak Bluffs School, 4.7 percent at Tisbury School, 1.9 percent in the up-Island schools in Chilmark and West Tisbury, and 9.4 percent at the regional high school.

The percentage of teachers ranked proficient included 82.6 percent at Edgartown School, 94.3 percent at Oak Bluffs School, 95.3 percent at Tisbury School, 90.4 percent in the up-Island schools, and 85.7 percent in the regional high school.

How the process works

The new evaluation system applies to all professional educators, including administrators such as superintendents, principals and assistant principals, and non-administrators such as guidance counselors, as well as teachers.

The evaluation system includes four broad statewide standards for administrators and teachers. The process involves five steps.

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. Two significant changes in the new evaluation system are the requirement for evidence or documentation, and a set of very specific standards for teachers to follow.

Both teachers and administrators do self-assessments. They also gather evidence, then exchange and discuss it, Mr. Weiss explained to The Times in a previous interview. Evidence gathered by administrators includes reports on two kinds of classroom visits — formal observations, either announced or unannounced, and 5- to 10-minute walk-in visits on a regular basis.

The new evaluation system utilizes a chart that links impact on student learning to educator practice. If a teacher teaches an MCAS subject, it will be one of the determinants of his or her performance rating for impact on student learning.

An evaluation rating is not tied to compensation. However, a teacher or administrator with poor ratings in educator practice and/or student achievement who does not demonstrate improvement 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.

Next steps

The framework for the educator evaluation system is designed to help teachers and administrators collaborate and receive meaningful feedback that lets them recognize their strengths and address areas where they could do better, DESE Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester said in last week’s press release.

Teachers ranked in need of improvement, for example, would have a higher level of supervision and work on improving skills specified by their evaluator, Mr. Weiss said, which may include sending them to workshops, doing more observations of their classrooms, and pairing them with other teachers.

“The goal is to move them from ‘needs improvement’ to proficient,” he added. “This isn’t a gotcha kind of thing; it’s a matter of helping them to refine the things that they need to improve on.”

In an opening day program for MVPS educators for the 2013-14 school year, Mr. Weiss said he would try to make the new evaluation system less stressful by reducing some of the paperwork requirements. He also noted that a Joint Labor Management Committee, made up of some administrators, teachers, and representatives from the Island’s two educator associations, was meeting monthly to discuss how the evaluation system was working and how to make it better.

“We were able to reduce some of the paperwork by consolidating some of the forms, and although there is still quite a bit, it is less than before,” Mr. Weiss said this week.

“And we tried to assure all of the staff members that really what we’re talking about here is ways to improve instruction for kids,” he added. “Most of our staff are proficient or above; that’s where we want them. We want to honor a few who do exemplary work, and we want to help those folks who need a little improvement, especially if they’re probationary teachers.” Mr. Weiss said the level of observation is high for these teachers over the course of their first three years.

“So if people make it through those first three years, they’re going to be in a good place,” he said.

Mr. Moore said the Charter School’s staff has been divided into three groups, and that each group will go through the full evaluation process every three years. “Our teachers are asked to create goals each year that include their professional growth goals as well as school wide initiatives,” he said. “It is very much in line with how we always have evaluated staff.”

How the new system evolved

The educator evaluation system was piloted by DESE in 2012 in 233 school districts, including Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools, that received state Race to the Top (RTT) funds. Massachusetts received a $250 million grant in 2010 as one of 12 winning states in the U.S. Department of Education’s RTT funds competition. Of that grant, Martha’s Vineyard public school districts will receive $118,129 over four years.

The funds are being used to promote educational reforms in grades K-12 in standards and assessment, teachers and leaders, school improvement, and data systems, which includes the development of a model system for educator evaluation.

Under the state’s rollout of the evaluation framework, RTT school districts were required to implement the new system and evaluate at least 50 percent of licensed educators during the 2012-13 school year. About one quarter to one third of licensed staff in the Island public schools were selected for evaluation that year. They included all probationary teachers who were in their first three years of teaching, and a portion of other teachers.

In the 2013-14 school year, RTT school districts such as the MVPS were required to evaluate all of their licensed educators, and non-RTT school districts, such as the Charter School, at least 50 percent of licensed educators.

The evaluation system applies to all professional educators, including administrators such as superintendents, principals and assistant principals, and non-administrators such as guidance counselors, as well as teachers.

In the 2015-16 school year, in addition to their summative performance ratings, educators will receive a student impact rating of high, moderate or low.

An educator’s student impact rating will include at least two years of data that identifies trends and patterns using multiple measures of student learning, growth and achievement, according to DESE. Student growth scores from state assessments, for example, MCAS, must be used as one of the measures when possible.