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October 14, 2011 | By | Posted in Governor

Corbett plans to grade teachers more like students

Teachers get nearly perfect grades under current evaluation system
 
By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
 
HARRISBURG — A new rating system for public school teachers seeks to ensure that students are receiving the most efficient education in a $26 billion taxpayer-funded system, Gov. Tom Corbett says.

A discrepancy between some school districts having barely 50 percent of its students performing at grade level and more than 99 percent of teachers statewide getting straight A’s prompted this initiative, Corbett said.
 
 
Overhauling the evaluation system is part of an education-reform package that Corbett wants the General Assembly to pass before the end of the year
 
The evaluation process now allows for two scores: satisfactory or unsatisfactory. Last year, 99.4 percent of teachers in Pennsylvania received the highest score.
 
But Corbett’s proposal that seeks to reward good teachers and filter out ineffective ones is based on a pilot program launched earlier this year, he told the state Department of Education earlier this week.
 
About 100 school districts statewide are testing the new program, which ranks teachers as “distinguished,” “proficient,” “needs improvement” or “failing.”
 
The pilot program also includes student performance as measured by state standardized testing over a three-year rolling average and classroom observations by principals and supervisors, which is part of the current evaluation process.
 
The multiple point analysis is designed to help teachers understand where they lack proficiency and help them to improve, said state Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller.
 
“The governor believes this is the best way to go in terms of evaluating teachers,” Eller said. “The best way to look at teachers is their student-achievement levels.”
 
The Pennsylvania State Education Association, or PSEA, the state’s largest teacher’s union, supports the multiple-objective measures for teacher performance, said Michael Crossey, the union president.
 
“We agree with the governor that teacher evaluations need to be improved,” Crossey said.
 
The PSEA also would support a “streamlined dismissal procedure” for teachers who fail to meet performance standards, he said.
 
At this point, Corbett has not proposed making any changes to state laws, which allow teachers to be released after two consecutive “unsatisfactory” rankings. 
 
State Sen. Andrew Dinniman, D-Chester, minority chairman of the House Education Committee, said the two-tiered system does not promote teaching excellence or the teaching profession. He said there is widespread support for changing it, but only if teachers are involved in ensuring the system is fair and accurate.
 
“It’s absolutely crucial that we have a new system of evaluations, but in the development of this system, we need to ensure that teachers play a crucial role,” said Dinniman.
 
Eller said teachers and other education stakeholders have been involved in crafting the new evaluations.
 
Randy Hoffman, a middle school science teacher in Cumberland County’s Camp Hill School District, one of the districts participating in the state’s pilot program, said more rigorous teacher evaluations would help instructors improve, but he questioned whether it is fair to connect a teacher’s job to the student performance.
 
For example, if one eighth grade biology teacher has a class of high-achieving students and another has a class with low-achieving students, the evaluations may not accurately reflect which teacher has done a better job if they are based on test scores, Hoffman said.  
 
Corbett went out of his way to say the new evaluation system was not intended to blame teachers for failing schools and struggling students. In fact, the new system will help recognize teachers who are doing a great job.
 
“Schools cannot advance when the work of their many excellent teachers — and I said there are many — are being slowed down by the less-committed, not as well-performing teacher or an underperforming administrator,” Corbett said.
 
The new system is based on the results of the state’s Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, or PSSA, standardized tests, which evaluate reading and math in third, eighth and 11th grades. For subjects and grade levels not covered by the PSSA, separate statewide assessments will be developed for all students, and the costs of developing those new tests will be worked out in the legislative process, Eller said.
 
Legislators may be hesitant to expand the pilot program statewide before it is fully evaluated, but Corbett said he wants to see the new evaluations passed with charter school reforms and school vouchers before the end of 2011, so they can take effect in the 2012-13 school year.
 
When it comes to funding public education, Pennsylvania taxpayers have seen the bill skyrocket in the past two decades.
 
In 1995, $13 billion in state and local tax dollars was spent on public schools. This year, the total is more than $26 billion, even after Corbett enacted some funding cuts at the state level in this year’s budget.
 
Despite that increase in spending, student performance has remained the same across the board, according to state Department of Education statistics.
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