Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012 | 2 a.m.
A state-level committee on Friday released its final recommendations for a new way to evaluate the state’s public school teachers.
Research has shown that the quality of instruction is a major driver of student performance. That's why Nevada legislators passed a law in 2011 that called for a new four-tiered evaluation system that would rate educators "highly effective," "effective," "minimally effective" and "ineffective." Currently, teachers are rated either "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory."
For the past 15 months, the Teachers and Leaders Council — composed of 15 educators, parents and policymakers — has been drafting the framework for a revamped evaluation system for teachers and school-level administrators. Preliminary rubrics and models will be presented Jan. 14 to the state school board for final adoption, with pilot programs scheduled by June.
Half of a teacher's evaluation will be based on student achievement as measured by test scores, according to state law.
The council recommended that student growth — how much a student improved on tests — would be worth 35 percent. Reducing achievement gaps between different student groups would be worth 10 percent, and student proficiency is worth 5 percent.
"Most of (the evaluation) should be on student growth because regardless of where (students) are when they come into the classroom, teachers have an obligation to move them forward," said Rorie Fitzpatrick, state deputy superintendent and council member. "We want to grow them more quickly."
The remainder of the teacher's evaluation would be based on best teaching practices.
Instructional practices — such as building lesson plans on previous lessons, engaging diverse students and using test data to drive instruction — would be worth 35 percent. Other professional responsibilities, such as engaging families and student survey results, are worth 15 percent.
The administrator evaluations are based on a similar framework, but one that stresses leadership skills. As with teachers, 50 percent of an administrator's evaluation would be based on student test scores.
State education officials were adamant this new evaluation model was not meant to be punitive. Rather, it's a way to identify low-performing teachers and help them become better educators with more professional training. Eventually, this model most likely would be used to reward high-performing teachers with bonuses.
"We've missed the boat if this is about getting rid of bad teachers," Fitzpatrick said. "We want to build systems that are fair and don't punish teachers."
Even with the basic framework for a teacher evaluation system created, much work remains.
The state school board must create a data collection system from which to evaluate teachers. The board will need to create rubrics for teacher and principal evaluations and determine the frequency and length of observations.
"If we have a bad set of data, then we're going to get bad results," Fitzpatrick said.
Evaluators — most likely principals and vice principals — also would need significant training to evaluate their staff uniformly and effectively.
To comply with the new state law, the teacher evaluation system must be in place by next school year. However, the council remained cautious about moving too quickly, recommending that the school board do yearlong studies to validate evaluation results.
Nevada must tread carefully to avoid botched evaluation systems.
One Florida district issued thousands of evaluations only to revoke them hours later after the system was found to be flawed. In the Houston Independent School District, merit pay for thousands of schoolteachers were doled out based on faulty evaluations, prompting district officials to request that teachers return their bonuses.
"We need to make every effort to avoid that," Fitzpatrick said. "When we stand this thing up, we need to believe in it."
Challenges remain, however, for the fledgling evaluation system.
Currently, only a quarter of the 25,000 teachers in Nevada have student assessments related to their subjects: reading, math and science in grades 3-8 and 10.
The council recommended that portfolio reviews, student surveys and peer assessments could be used as well as observations.
The state board also must wrestle with how evaluators will be selected and how they will be trained to remain impartial.
The council recommended the state look into hiring consultants to oversee this process and develop a "cadre of peer reviewers."
Finally, reviewing thousands of teachers and principals — even if it's not on an annual basis — will be a major undertaking.
State Superintendent Jim Guthrie calculated the annual cost to be upwards of $20 million, with around 14 hours of observation per teacher.
"This is such a poor state, we don't want to throw $10 million-$20 million away and do it wrong," Guthrie said. "We want to be the first state to get it right, fair — and spend these dollars wisely."
Community leaders applauded the council on Friday for its work. Some offered suggestions for improvement, particularly around how the new teacher evaluation system would help minority students. Others called for evaluation systems to be created for school boards and districts, as well.
Ellen Holmes, the director of professional learning for the local teachers union, said she was grateful for union representation on the council.
However, she raised several concerns about the limited state support and the quick timeline in which this evaluation system is being put into practice. Holmes also was worried about how evaluators would be selected.
"This could lead to a high-stakes, high-stress situation," she said. "We don't want that in our schools."
UNLV law professor Sylvia Lazos said the new evaluation system ought to better measure growth among English Language Learner students.
"If we want to improve, we need to measure how teachers are working with our ELL students," she said.
Jose Solorio, who represents the Nevada Latino Democratic caucus Si Se Puede, said he was concerned the new teacher evaluation system would increase the teacher diversity gap. Solorio said he feared quality teachers would flock to more affluent and higher-performing schools that could better their chances of earning a positive evaluation.
"Teachers are leaving at-risk schools, and this would do nothing (to change that)," Solorio said. "We need to address diversity issues. Otherwise, we're failing the minority and Latino students in Nevada."
Guthrie argued the new teacher evaluation system was a matter of providing quality teachers to the most disadvantaged students in the most at-risk schools in Nevada.
"Without this mechanism, we don't have the capacity to reallocate our resources — the most effective of which is the teacher — to poor and the most discriminated against minorities," Guthrie said. "This is the civil rights issue of the 21st century. We can't make this a fair and just society if we don't put the resources in front of the students who need them the most."