Teacher evaluation system debated

Committee looking at new way of paying staff members based on performance

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— The future of a Steamboat Springs School District teacher evaluation system is still up in the air eight months after the Knowledge & Skills-Based Pay plan based on the potential system was approved by district teachers, staff and the school board.

The goal of a teacher evaluation system is to pay teachers based on their performance, not that of the students.

The pay-for-performance compensation system currently in place rewards teachers and staff for students' scores on state tests.

Weaker-than-normal classes hurt some teacher bonuses under the pay-for-performance plan, said Mike Smith, head of the district teachers association.

"Sometimes you can be a great teacher, but you can have a weak class or a class that comes into the year weak," Smith said.

In May, the schools approved a new pay plan to take effect once the evaluation system is in place. In the meantime, teacher salaries are determined by an interim plan using the traditional method of salaries based on teacher experience.

The interim pay plan expires at the end of the 2004-05 school year.

The goal is for a pilot program to begin in early March, followed by an evaluation of the system in May. If teachers approve the evaluation system by the end of the school year, it could be implemented in time for the start of the 2003-04 school year.

"It's a difficult process," said Strawberry Park teacher Celia Dunham, who is also on the seven-member committee responsible for drafting the evaluation system.

"We really don't want to put this in place unless it's going to be successful, so we're moving really slowly and laboriously," Dunham said.

Some of the challenges facing the committee are establishing the standards by which teachers will be measured, writing the corresponding rubrics to those standards, deciding who will evaluate the teachers and what techniques will be used to measure teacher performance.

The committee is evaluating teacher standards used in school districts across the country, then molding some of those standards to fit the needs of the school district, Dunham said. Specific standards could include instruction design, communication with parents and collaboration with colleagues.

Who will evaluate the teachers will be a difficult decision for the committee, Smith said. School principals, outside evaluators and teams of evaluators are possible options, Dunham said.

Both Smith and Dunham said they are concerned with what will happen to teachers who score poorly on evaluations. A comprehensive staff development program would work to help individual teachers in areas where evaluations show weaknesses.

"If you really want this to be successful, you have to have a professional development system in place so teachers can develop the skills they need to score well in the evaluation system," Dunham said.

Yet another potential pitfall to the system is what tools will measure teacher performance. The committee has discussed a two-part system using portfolios and in-class observation.

The portfolio, which would be assembled by the teacher being evaluated, could include lesson plans, student work and the teacher's reflections on which aspects of the lesson went well, which didn't and what the teacher would change for future classes, Smith said.

"One of the challenges of the portfolio is that it needs to be something that's meaningful for the teachers and that it doesn't create more work for them," Dunham said.

Observation could be performed in person by an evaluator or by videotaping the teacher while working.

A lot of work toward a potential evaluation system has been done, but plenty of obstacles lie ahead, Dunham said.

The committee has maintained constant communication with school district teachers and staff because the system can't be implemented without their approval.

"Certainly the teachers on the committee won't agree to something they feel their colleagues won't agree with," Dunham said. "The hope is that by doing this, we won't end up doing something they don't want."

Though it's a long and tedious process, the benefits of a successful evaluation system make it worthwhile, Smith said.

"One of the benefits is that it is tied to pay and people can move up the pay scale faster," Smith said.

"Another benefit is that we are discussing tying in staff development, which means it will improve teaching in the school district," Smith said. "That should help create better teachers throughout the district."

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