Evanston news delivered free to your inbox! 

There is an ongoing disagreement between District 65 administrators and the District Educators Council (DEC, the teachers’ union) on the process to follow in developing a new teacher appraisal system, as well as the methods to be used to appraise teachers.

In November and December, hundreds of teachers appeared at School Board meetings to demonstrate their opposition to a teacher evaluation system that had been developed by administrators and implemented at the beginning of the school year. DEC’s leadership said that system was unreliable, flawed and inequitable for a host of reasons. Superintendent Hardy Murphy defended the new evaluation system, saying it raised expectations and had enough fail-safes built in so that no one would be treated unfairly.

Teachers asked that the new system be treated as “shadow-system” for one year, during which the District could address their concerns. They also asked that the District formally implement the provisions of the Illinois Performance Evaluation Reform Act (PERA), and that the District and DEC implement a new teacher appraisal system under PERA on an expedited basis.

On Dec. 3, the School Board decided it would vote at a subsequent meeting on whether or not to treat the new appraisal system as shadow system this year. Before a vote was taken, Dr. Murphy reached an agreement with DEC to treat the new appraisal system as a shadow system this year. No deal was reached, though, on whether to formally implement PERA on an expedited basis.

A Jan. 17 memorandum from Dr. Murphy to School Board members said District 65 was planning to implement PERA on an expedited basis. At the School Board’s Jan. 22 meeting, though, Dr. Murphy said the District would not formally implement PERA at this time, but would meet with teachers “informally” to talk about PERA.

The distinction is significant. By meeting informally rather than formally, the District does not risk having a teacher evaluation model prepared by the State kick in on a default basis if the District and teachers cannot agree on an evaluation plan.

Dr. Murphy also told the Board that administrators and representatives of DEC had a preliminary discussion with ECRA, an education research firm, about a possible role in finalizing the evaluation plan. ECRA has previously worked with District 65 in administering stakeholder surveys.

PERA and the State’s Model as the Default

PERA requires each school district to adopt a teacher evaluation plan that considers student growth as a significant factor. Under PERA, School District 65 must implement the evaluation plan by Sept. 1, 2016. The District and DEC, however, may agree to expedite the implementation date, but the date may not be earlier than Sept. 1, 2013.

PERA specifies a process to adopt the evaluation plan. School districts must establish a joint committee composed of an equal number of persons selected by the District and by its teachers to work out the plan. If the joint committee does not agree on a plan within 180 days of the date it formally starts discussions, then PERA requires the “district shall implement the model evaluation plan” that is established by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).

ISBE has not yet adopted a model teacher evaluation plan. In addition, District officials said they were advised that the model may not be adopted “any time soon.”

Because the State has not yet adopted a model plan, Dr. Murphy said he did not want to start the formal meetings under PERA and trigger the start of the 180-day period, which could lead to the State’s model plan (as yet unknown) being imposed on the District.

Because ISBE has not yet adopted the model or default plan, “we’re not certain what we’re getting into if in fact we engage the process formally,” said Dr. Murphy.

Dr. Murphy said the joint committee can meet informally to discuss a teacher evaluation plan without triggering the 180-day clock, and potentially implementation of the State’s model plan. “We intend to address the components and requirements of PERA,” he said. But, “We want to move forward with this with our teachers in an informal process. … What we’re saying is the formal engagement could be problematical for us.”

Outside Consultants May Be Brought In

“One of the things we’ve also done is we’ve had a conversation with our teachers’ union leadership and ECRA,” said Dr. Murphy. “ECRA has a growth model that we are hoping can be adapted to the framework that we have; they also can provide all of the analytics for the process; they can also provide the test development process for CBAs [curriculum based assessments] and make sure that those tests are more reliable and valid; and they’re willing to engage with us in this process. The target would be that we’d have something done by mid-summer so we can open up the school year.”

Dr. Murphy said representatives of ECRA would meet with the joint committee on Jan. 28. He said that meeting would be the first in which the joint committee would review the teacher appraisal system that is proceeding as a “shadow system” this year, to try to address the concerns that were raised by teachers and Board members.

One issue that will be addressed, he said, is the weight to be given student growth as measured by the Illinois Standard Achievement Test and the Measures of Academic Progress test, versus other growth measures, such as student portfolios.

Eileen Budde referred to a report, “Ensuring Fair and Reliable Measures of Effective Teaching,” released earlier this month by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation , and noted that the study recommended that student perception surveys be used, together with student growth and classroom observations to evaluate teachers.

Tracy Quattrocki likewise said the report was concrete in saying that student perception surveys complement the other components of a teacher evaluation plan and strengthen it.

Both Ms. Budde and Ms. Quattrocki asked if the District had talked about including student-perception surveys in the teacher evaluation plan.

Dr. Murphy said, “Everything’s on the table when we sit down and talk to the joint committee.” He said, “We’ll have conversations about it,” but added he thought teachers may have concerns about using student surveys.

DEC President Jean Luft told Board members at the conclusion of the meeting, “We’re disappointed we’re not going to formally adopt PERA.”

The MET Project Recommends Three Measures

The Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project, sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, finished its three-year study and issued this month its final report, “”Ensuring Fair and Reliable Measures of Effective Teaching.”” During the three-year process, MET issued interim reports concerning the use of student-perception surveys, classroom observations, and student achievement gains, each of which it recommends be used in evaluating teachers.

The study says, “”Well-designed student-perception surveys capture important aspects of instruction and the classroom environment.”” Good surveys that are properly administered “”are predictive of student achievement gains. Students know an effective classroom when they see one.””

The study also found that classroom observations, conducted by persons who are trained on an instrument used in conducting the observations and who have demonstrated their accuracy, are an important part of the mix. “”Including the perspectives of two or more observers per teacher greatly enhances reliability,”” says the report. “”Adding observations from outside a teacher’s school to those carried out by an administrator can provide an ongoing check against in-school bias.””

Third, the study concludes that teachers should be evaluated by taking student growth into account – between 33% and 50% of the mix. The methodology used in measuring student growth of the surveys is critically important. One factor highlighted in the report is, “”We can unambiguously say that school systems should account for the prior test scores of students.””

The report adds, “”if multiple years of data on student achievement gains, observations, and student surveys are available, they should be used.””

“”Each measure adds something of value,”” says the report, “”Classroom observations provide rich feedback on practice. Student perception surveys provide a reliable indicator of the learning environment and give voice to the intended beneficiaries of instruction. Student learning gains (adjusted to account for differences among students) can help identify groups of teachers who, by virtue of their instruction are helping students learn more.

“”Multiple measures also produce more consistent ratings than student achievement measures alone,”” says the report. “”Estimates of teachers’ effectiveness are more stable from year to year when they combine classroom observations, student surveys, and measures of achievement gains than when they are based solely on the latter.””

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...