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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Update on Educator Evaluation: Work to be Done

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
Date:
January 14, 2011

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In December 2010, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education received an update on the work of the Task Force on Educator Evaluation that the Board established on May 25, 2010 Download Word Document. At that time, the context for reforming educator evaluation was presented, including a summary of various national reports that noted the lack of variability in educator ratings typified by most current evaluation systems.

As I noted in my December 10, 2010 memorandum to you, the lack of variability in educator ratings and failure to differentiate teacher effectiveness based on performance presents a lost opportunity for: 1) providing improvement-oriented feedback that promotes professional growth; 2) identifying highly effective educators and distilling lessons learned from their practices; 3) tapping the expertise of particularly effective educators as teacher leaders and peer coaches; 4) providing struggling and developing educators (those in the first years of practice) with the support they need to improve and grow; and 5) linking compensation to performance. Perhaps most importantly, the failure of evaluation systems to identify weak performers and either secure instructional improvements or dismiss ineffective educators condemns successive cohorts of students to subpar instruction.

The Task Force continues to meet to deliberate the specific elements of the evaluation framework that will be recommended to the Commissioner and Board, as well as additional recommendations regarding implementation and supports that might be included in its final report. For our January 2011 meeting, I will update the Board on the work of the Task Force and preview a few of the issues the Board will need to consider in its deliberations.

The Task Force is grappling with some of the most challenging issues in education reform on an accelerated timeline. It has identified and established preliminary areas of agreement (subject to final review and approval) on core elements of a proposed new evaluation framework, with additional discussions remaining on a number of key issues. Task Force members have continued to articulate their belief that new regulations will be effective in promoting educator effectiveness only if they are accompanied with strong implementation supports and training. Accordingly, delineating a set of recommendations on implementation will be a key focus in the Task Force's remaining two meetings.

After the Task Force has completed its deliberations and produces its recommendations, I will present them to the Board for discussion at our February meeting. In March, I will share the Task Force's final report along with my recommendations for revising the Board's current regulations and principles for effective teaching and administration for the Board's review and deliberation prior to soliciting public comment. In advance of the Task Force's report, however, we can anticipate two of the major issues the Board is likely to discuss in its upcoming deliberations:

  1. The significance of student learning and growth data

    Consistent with the Board vote that created the Task Force and the federal Race to the Top requirements, student learning and growth will be a significant factor in educator evaluations. The Task Force has debated various ways in which student performance may be measured, its inclusion along with other measures of educator effectiveness 1, and the interpretation of the term "significant." The use of student learning and growth measures as part of an evaluation system is a new factor in educator evaluation, with an evolving research base. States and districts across the country are taking a variety of approaches to meeting this criterion.

    In Massachusetts, MCAS growth data is available for approximately 17 percent of teachers. Additional measures of student performance in non-MCAS grades and subjects will need to be developed. The Board will need to consider these challenges in establishing a new regulatory framework that is rigorous, fair, and based on appropriate measures of educator effectiveness. In addition, the new framework needs to be both practicable to administer and credible to the public and the field.

  2. Implementation recommendations

    The success of the new evaluation framework, once promulgated in regulations, will depend on how it is implemented in districts across the Commonwealth. As such, we must see to it that there are adequate supports available to districts so that they can move evaluation from a compliance exercise to one that promotes thoughtful educator reflection and provides practitioners with the feedback they need for continuous professional growth and improvement. In addition, supervisors need training and time to conduct reliable observations and effective evaluations. Accordingly, the Task Force's report will address issues of capacity, training, and supervisor/supervisee ratios.

    At the state level, we can facilitate this work by providing training support to districts, by identifying best practices as the new regulatory framework is brought online, by building a career ladder for teachers within the licensure system, and via other tools and forms of technical assistance.

    The Department will develop a model evaluation system that may be adopted or adapted by districts. The system will conform to the statewide regulations and provide an option for Level 4 schools and districts that will need to have new evaluation systems in place by the 2011-2012 school year. Other districts may also choose to adopt or adapt this model, which will be accompanied by draft contract language, as a less effort-intensive alternative to developing their own systems de novo or modifying existing systems to fit the new regulatory requirements. An important benefit of adopting such a model is it that it provides a more consistent approach to educator evaluation across districts.

Conclusion

As stated in the December 2010 update to the Board, improving educator evaluation is an important lever for strengthening teaching and learning statewide, and in so doing helping to close proficiency gaps. New evaluation regulations will be a significant step in advancing a reform agenda that is meaningful and leads to improved student learning, the professional growth of educators, and more systemic approaches to increasing educator effectiveness at the school, district, and state levels.

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Last Updated: January 18, 2011
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