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How One School District is Trying to get Teacher Evaluations Right

State officials, school officials, education experts and parents seem to be on a non-ending quest to get to a teacher evaluation system that’s fair to teachers while ultimately achieving the goal everyone seems to agree on — providing every single student the opportunity to have a quality education. And part of that formula, of course, are the teachers that lead classroom lessons day after day.

One of the most hotly contested issues, as of late, is whether student achievement and continual growth should be factored into how a teacher is evaluated. Colorado is among the states that is contemplating that issue, recently striking down a bill that would have eliminated the requirement to base at least half of a teacher’s annual evaluation on how well their students are growing academically.

One of the alternatives — limiting teacher evaluations to observations made by a principal during classroom visits — is inefficient, some education reform advocates argued.

While this type of debate continues to rage on across the nation, one school district has been trying an evaluation system that puts more of the responsibility in the teacher’s hands. It would require self-evaluation on teachers’ part.

The Harrington Park School District in New Jersey, prompted by concerns that it was at risk of losing teachers, decided to implement steps to draw teachers into the evaluation process by introducing the Self-Directed Growth Plan (SDGP).

Dr. Adam Fried, the superintendent of the school district, said that the plan focuses on collaboration. “We’ve done away with mundane and redundant evaluations that add to existing isolation and anxiety of educators,” he said in a recent blog.

SDGP, which operates under a long-term observation model, is driven by research, student data and teacher collaboration, according to the district’s officials. Here are some of the highlights of the method:

  1. It’s based on the belief that students learn in different ways, therefore recognizing that an evaluation must make room for various measures to determine that a teacher is making progress.
  1. Under SDGP, staff members are allowed to direct their own learning under a long-term plan. The teachers set clear and measurable objectives that are based on the specific needs of their classrooms. They set objectives that take into account student growth and choose from among agreed upon models for training, including peer coaching, college partnerships, and interdisciplinary team projects.
  1. SDGP also allows for teachers to modify their teaching practices if evaluations show that they are coming up short.

“The scope of future plans for the SDGP process is vast and unlimited, and as we look to the future, we see a possible path for the SDGPs to fit into our work with recertification and micro-credentials,” Fried said. “For us, teacher evaluation and training isn’t about seat-time. It’s about learning and competencies.”