At the Feb. 11 District 65 Finance Committee meeting, Superintendent Hardy Murphy recommended retaining The ECRA Group (ECRA) to assist in developing the student growth component of District 65’s teacher appraisal system. ECRA, an educational research firm, has previously worked with District 65 for several years in administering stakeholder surveys.

District 65 administrators implemented a new teacher appraisal system at the beginning of this school year that takes student growth into account as one factor.

After teachers raised concerns about the statistical validity and fairness of the system, Dr. Murphy reached an agreement with the District Educators Council (DEC, the teachers union) in December 2012 to treat the new appraisal system as a “shadow system” this year.

Since then, the District 65 Joint Teacher Evaluation Committee, composed of teachers and administrators, has met to discuss the teacher appraisal system.

“Both teacher and administrative members of the committee support a working arrangement with ECRA,” said Dr. Murphy.

John Gatta, a principal of ECRA, outlined the broad parameter’s of ECRA’s teacher evaluation model at the Feb. 11 Finance Committee meeting. He said ECRA analyses each student’s past performance on an individual basis, and using at least three data points of past performance ECRA predicts each student’s future performance. ECRA then compares each student’s predicted performance with their actual performance at the end of a school year, and determines whether each student’s growth was higher than expected, expected, lower than expected or unsatisfactory. It also computes a “Value-Added Growth” number for each student.
This student-growth data is compiled and used to evaluate teachers.

When asked if ECRA would “tweak” the District 65 teacher evaluation model that is being treated as a “shadow system” this year or if ECRA’s model would be substituted for the District’s model, Dr. Murphy said, “We don’t know exactly where it will land. But we’re going to look at our system and see if there’s a way to adapt the definition of growth to that system.”

Dr. Gatta said, “It’s a matter of trying to embed some statistical safeguards and add some rigors statistically to the model just to guard against variations and to be able to separate variation from other variation.”
When pressed if a teacher could be evaluated on the basis of how small groups of five or six students performed (which was a concern raised about the District 65 model), Dr. Gotta said, “I think you have to embed the statistical calculation within that process so that you know what is large enough and what is small enough.”  

The cost of ECRA’s services is $73,132 per year, which would be prorated this year. Several School Board members expressed concern that the proposed agreement was to continue through June 30, 2016. They suggested that the agreement be for a shorter time period, during which the Board could evaluate ECRA’s services. With that change, the Finance Committee voted to recommend that the full Board consider retaining ECRA.   

It is contemplated that the District will also use the teacher appraisal model developed with ECRA’s assistance as the quantitative piece of the teacher effectiveness study, which is intended to identify the characteristics of effective teachers.

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...