December 2011 Issue
November 20, 2011

TED: Teachers as active participants in their evaluation

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United

Welcome to the next generation of teacher evaluation: Instead of drive-by observations where teachers are passive recipients, the TED system establishes teachers as active participants in the process.

That's the underpinning of the Teacher Evaluation and Development (TED) system, which carves out a role for teachers to "own" our own evaluations, analyze our practice and make instructional shifts that will raise student achievement.

The groundbreaking approach now available statewide to districts working to implement changes in state law governing teacher evaluations is not about sorting educators. It's about improving instruction and professional growth.

Another strength of the TED system is that it was created collaboratively by six labor-management Innovation Teams across the state, anchored to New York's seven teaching standards and to a researchbased teacher practice rubric. Guided by national experts, teachers, principals and superintendents, six district teams worked side by side for nearly two years to design TED, making sure evaluations are comprehensive, fair and objective and go beyond standardized test scores.

"TED is unique in many ways," said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira, who leads the groundbreaking initiative. "TED's strength is that it brings practitioners in to analyze their own practice, which is the critical component to making instructional shifts. It demonstrates the power of labor-management collaboration, which is too often the missing variable when it comes to reform efforts. And it is being field-tested and phased in thoughtfully by our pilot districts - with site coordinators, extensive training and a strong TED is the first union-led reform initiative to come to fruition funded by a federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from the U.S. Education Department. It is also supported by a grant from the American Federation of Teachers.

"The Teacher Evaluation and Development work in New York state represents the kind of labor-management collaboration to improve student achievement that we want to promote across the country," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "Local teacher union leaders and district administrators have developed a powerful system that integrates evaluation and professional development to improve teaching and learning."

TED incorporates the NYSUT Teacher Practice Rubric, one of the first approved by the State Education Department for statewide use.

It is the only rubric directly aligned with the New York State Teaching Standards, turning teacher evaluations into a platform for rigorous analysis of instructional practice and continued professional growth for all teachers.

While some of the state teacher practice rubrics approved by SED to date require as little as 15 hours of online training to construct evaluations, TED's teacher practice rubric is fully supported by comprehensive and high quality training for evaluators and teachers - and ongoing support. Training is available through NYSUT's Education & Learning Trust.

At a recent five-day intensive training for mid-Hudson evaluators and teachers, national experts and pilot participants explained the comprehensive system step by step, including pre-observation preparation and conferencing; an examination of student work; evidence of effective teaching; and optional measures like portfolios.

The hands-on training included video observations, as well as reviews of a teacher's goal-setting and lesson plans. Evaluators submitted their ratings via laptops and their findings were analyzed to ensure inter-rater reliability.

They learned the difference between biased opinions and evidence collection to strengthen objectivity. Teachers and evaluators alike appreciated the fact that the NYSUT Teacher Practice Rubric includes multiple measures to evaluate a teacher's effectiveness.

"Much of this training is establishing a common vocabulary so everybody's speaking the same language," said Terry Reynolds, site coordinator in Marlboro, one of the Innovation Initiative districts that piloted the rubric last year. "You need a comprehensive system to capture the complexities of good teaching." Participants also witnessed the merits of paired evaluations, where observations and evidence collection are done in tandem by an administrator and a peer evaluator.

"This training has been absolutely invaluable - I can't imagine doing this online," said Nadine Straughn, principal at Columbus Elementary in Poughkeepsie. "This model takes the subjectivity out of evaluations - which I'm totally ready for. I especially like the intensity and specificity of the rubric." Straughn's school is piloting the teacher practice rubric using an optional component of TED: peer evaluation and assistance. Straughn will pair with a consulting teacher for each pilot evaluation. Jennifer Melrose and Carleigh Koren, who will be the consulting teachers at Columbus Elementary School, teamed with Straughn for the training.

"It's a lot more involved than I expected," noted Melrose, a reading specialist. "But it's also been helpful to break everything down into chunks and actually practice and compare notes with each other." Participants agreed the new system, if done right, will do much more than give a teacher a rating.

"This will empower us," said Kingston Teachers Federation President Lauri Naccarato, whose district will try the rubric this year. "Good teachers have always done much of this; this just gives us a mechanism to document it." She said the training gives teachers understanding of what to expect and takes some of the "scariness" out of the process. "We wouldn't think of giving kids an assessment without telling them what's expected of them," Naccarato said.

"This will help teachers look at their practice and get better," said Tiffany Ward, a social studies teacher at Poughkeepsie High School. "It puts a whole new spin on what an evaluation is for."

"I think this will be good for students, too," said Sarai Pabon-Vargas, a special education teacher at Poughkeepsie Middle School. "It will help make sure teachers are serving all levels of students, differentiating instruction ... It will definitely help close the student achievement gap." "This is just the beginning of our evolving work," Neira said. "As we go through this year, our scale-up districts will be folding in other components of the evaluation system."