January 2013 Issue
December 18, 2012

NYSUT's teacher eval initiative moves forward

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira tells the Innovation teams that many districts are interested in their groundbreaking work. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

NYSUT's pilot teacher evaluation system is starting to spread its wings, buoyed by state and national recognition — plus a Gates Foundation grant to support the continuation of the project.

"When we started this Innovation Initiative three years ago, we knew it would be groundbreaking," NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira said to the six labor-management district teams at a December meeting. "With your risk-taking and the power of collaboration, your work has truly exceeded our desired outcomes."

As of mid-December, more than 135 districts in the state had selected NYSUT's Teacher Practice Rubric as the centerpiece of their teacher evaluation plan. NYSUT expects the number to exceed 200 districts in the coming weeks, as more districts finalize negotiations and the state approves more Annual Professional Performance Review plans.

The NYSUT Teacher Practice Rubric was designed and field-tested by Innovation Initiative teams from Albany, Hempstead, Marlboro, North Syracuse, Plattsburgh and Poughkeepsie, whose collective work began in 2009 with a grant from the American Federation of Teachers and additional federal funding.

Guided by national experts, teachers, principals and superintendents, the six district teams worked side by side for nearly three years to design the Teacher Evaluation and Development (TED) system. For the last year, the six teams have been slowly phasing in pieces of the comprehensive system, which is intended to make sure evaluations are fair, objective, go beyond standardized test scores and support teacher growth and development.

The project has garnered national attention. Innovation participants have presented at conferences around the country sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education and groups such as Teacher Union Reform Network and the Center for American Progress. The Innovation Initiative work has been featured in prestigious publications, including Education Week, Carnegie Reports and the National Center for Teacher Quality.

Neira said it's time for the project to transition into even deeper work: building the professional development and support network that must go along with a meaningful evaluation process that supports teacher growth.

"We want teacher evaluations to support, not sort," Neira said.

The Gates Foundation grant will help the pilot districts move forward with phase two, including the development of learning plans, differentiated professional development and student surveys based on the teacher practice rubric.

In addition, SED has received a federal grant to replicate TED's collaborative model with five more districts. "That's monumental union-led reform," Neira said.

Reflecting on the last three years of design and implementation work, innovation teams said they've experienced numerous bumps in the road, and learned many lessons.

"There were a million different wrinkles that had to be ironed out," said Albany site coordinator Jim Grove, vice president of the Albany Public School Teachers Association. "This isn't a packaged program you can just pull off the shelf ... We learned how crucial it is to provide training, informational sessions and make changes along the way."

Grove said phase-in time has helped educators feel more comfortable with the active approach to evaluations. "The first time through was frustrating. The second time, you see a lot of the teachers getting it and [being] more positive."

Participants said the collaborative approach — labor and management working together — helped with buy-in. "At our Superintendent's Conference Day, our Teacher Academy was presented jointly by the union president and administrators and that made a big difference," said Poughkeepsie High School Principal Edgar Glascott. "I also believe we've become better administrators because of the collaboration."

"Initially, people were negative about the process, but once they understood it, our association overwhelmingly approved it," said Plattsburgh TA President Mary Lou Megarr. "We're now spending a lot of our time on professional development and mentoring. We've reactivated our Professional Improvement Committee to provide the support teachers need to grow."

As more and more districts choose NYSUT's Teacher Practice Rubric to meet the new state regulations, the union can support efforts to help local districts fully implement TED.

NYSUT's Education & Learning Trust, the union's professional development arm, offers extensive training (see story below). In the last year, more than 5,000 educators have attended more than 70 stakeholder sessions statewide. More than 750 have attended ELT evaluator training.

For many districts, record-keeping and technology have been challenging. A number of districts are using or looking at MyLearningPlan/OASYS to access online forms and specially designed reporting tools to help streamline the process.