In compliance with the recently enacted state law, Performance Evaluation Reform Act, or PERA, School District 202 has implemented a system for evaluating teachers at Evanston Township High School.

 At the Sept. 23 School Board meeting, Dr. Peter Bavis, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, Marcus Campbell, assistant superintendent/principal, and Dale Leibforth, math coach and math teacher, presented their proposal for evaluating teachers, which is based on Charlotte Danielson’s “Framework of Teaching” system.

For the next three years, that is until the 2015-16 school year, teachers will be evaluated only on professional practice. Beginning with the 2016-17 school year, 70 percent of each teacher evaluation will be based on professional practice, and the remaining 30 percent on “academic data and other indicators of student growth, according to the proposal.”

How It Works

Under this system, tenured faculty and staff are formally evaluated every two years and untenured faculty and staff every year on planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction and professional responsibilities. The performance categories are “excellent,” “proficient,” “needs improvement” and “unsatisfactory.”

Any tenured staff or faculty member who receives a rating of “needs improvement” or “unsatisfactory” will have a remediation plan put into effect and be subsequently re-evaluated according to that plan.

“Assuming the remediation is unsuccessful,” said Board member Jonathan Baum, “how long will it take until that teacher is dismissed?”

Under PERA, two “unsatisfactory” ratings within 36 months could allow for dismissal, Dr. Bavis said.

Department chairs, instructional coaches and others who will perform the evaluations have undergone 20 hours of training on how to fill out the evaluation rubric, said Mr. Campbell and Dr. Bavis. To avoid discrepancies in evaluation and to ensure that all evaluators assess in the same manner, the evaluation committee “trained … and normed at the margins,” said Dr. Bavis, so the evaluators would agree and understand, for example, the differences between “proficient” and “excellent” teaching.

“We have really pushed department chairs to get into the classrooms,” said Dr. Bavis. “Department chairs have already visited 301 classrooms and instructional coaches have had 313 coaching sessions,” he added.

“Tell us in overall terms what this means from a teacher’s standpoint,” said Board member Doug Holt. “Will the teachers be paid more? Will a change in status lead to dismissal?”

“There is no merit pay, by state law,” said Dr. Bavis. He said that evaluations could be considered if there were to be a reduction in force, or RIF, something Evanston Township High School has not had for several years. In the event of a RIF, Dr. Bavis said, the new laws would allow performance evaluation to trump seniority in the consideration of whom to let go.

“Everyone needs to grow in teaching,” said Mr. Leibforth. Even ‘excellent’ teachers will find room to grow.”

Board member Pat Savage-Williams asked how “teacher anxiety” would be addressed. “I know there is always anxiety around the ratings. Sometimes the big barrier is between ‘excellent’ and ‘proficient’,” she said.

“The difference between ‘excellence’ and ‘proficiency’ is student-driven,” said Mr. Leibforth. “If a classroom is student-driven, students are in charge of the learning – that’s excellent teaching. If I put on a [good] show but the class isn’t student-driven, that’s ‘proficient’,” he said. He acknowledged that there might be anxiety but said, “This is a way to grow … teachers. We know what good teaching looks like. We’re anxious but we do have the rubrics … My job as instructional coach is to help teachers grow.”

Student Evaluation of Teachers

Student Board member Russell Fillmore Brady asked if there was a way to include student evaluation of teachers.

Mr. Campbell said there was no such provision in the present evaluation system. “I’m not really comfortable with having students evaluate teachers,” he said. He added that he would like to see student voices “elevated.”

Mr. Baum suggested that ETHS administrators contact administrators at school districts that use student evaluations as part of their teacher evaluation systems. “Many school districts have incorporated student surveys and have assigned a specific percentage – 5 percent, for example – into the evaluations,” he said.

Board member Bill Geiger said, “It seems to me there’s a way that would encourage student input.” Referring to Mr. Leibforth’s comment that student engagement distinguishes “proficient” teachers from “excellent” ones, he said, “We might want to reconsider student voices.”

“I think teachers want feedback,” said Mr. Leibforth, adding that he has frequent information conversations with his students. “If you’re not talking with students about how they’re doing, you won’t know how they’re learning.”

The Face of Success

Asked about what success in this evaluation program would look like, Mr. Campbell said, “When we have instructional leadership and serious discussions about teaching and learning.”

“One of the things we should see is improvement in the ratings, improvement in instruction,” said Dr. Bavis. “This is really about improving instruction at ETHS. … The Danielson method brings clarity and the value of the student-centered classroom above the traditional classroom.”

The 2016 ‘Mess’

Discussion turned to the changes in the evaluation system once student performance comprises 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, beginning in 2016.

“There’s a lack of clarity around how districts are going to do that,” said Dr. Bavis. He said right now there are three options, none of which fits well with ETHS: performance on nationally normed tests such as the ACT, performance on common assessments, such as the State Board is promulgating, and, more locally, “agreements between teachers and administrators” about what standard to use. “It gets messy on a couple of fronts and right now we have a committee that is dealing with this mess. We need [for that part of the evaluation system] to have validity, reliability and fairness.”

“So some time in the next three years you’ll come up with a model and pilot it,” said Mr. Baum.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...