Data released by the state Thursday rating teachers on their job performance show most Island educators are making the grade.
Educators across the six Island schools scored proficient in most cases, while a minority of staff were assigned ratings of needs improvement or unsatisfactory by their superiors.
In addition, a handful of teachers were given the highest rating of exemplary.
The six public schools made a random selection of educators last year for evaluation. Ultimately ratings were released for between a quarter and a third of licensed staff in each school. The Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School evaluated half of its educators.
“I am pleased,” said superintendent of schools Dr. James H. Weiss. “It shows that we are doing a very careful job of reviewing our teachers.”
Released Thursday morning by the state Department of Education, the data is the first to be available under the new educator evaluation system, which was piloted in 213 Race to the Top districts across the commonwealth. Race to the Top is a federal education program that provides competitive grants to states that are creating conditions for education innovation.
The Vineyard schools volunteered to join the program in Massachusetts, Mr. Weiss said.
For confidentiality reasons, individual educators are not named in the data.
Under the new regulations, administrators, principals and teachers are given a summative performance rating of exemplary, proficient, needs improvement or unsatisfactory. While the Island principals are graded each year by Mr. Weiss, those ratings were not publicly released for confidentiality reasons relating to the size of the individual school districts. Throughout the Race to the Top districts in the state, 90 per cent of principals were given a proficient rating, seven per cent were rated exemplary, three per cent were found needing improvement and one per cent were unsatisfactory last year.
Staff at Island elementary schools showed a pattern of solid performance in the first evaluation cycle.
At the Oak Bluffs and Edgartown schools, 94 per cent of the educators evaluated received proficient or exemplary ratings. Up-Island, nearly 80 per cent of those evaluated were deemed proficient. In Tisbury, 92 per cent of educators were designated proficient.
Data was not made available for the public charter school because all 12 evaluated staff members were given the same rating of proficient. Charter school director Bob Moore, who spearheaded the process, said he was pleased with the results.
“Most of our teachers are fairly experienced teachers and they have worked hard at their craft over the years,” Mr. Moore said. “The truth of the matter is that they are proficient and do their job very well.”
Mr. Moore said he finds the new system helpful because it makes standards explicit and places emphasis on the important areas of curriculum, differentiation for all students, family engagement and teaching ethics. Principals are asked to evaluate teachers in these four areas and assign a proficiency rating. The rating is determined following a year of announced and unannounced classroom visits, teachers’ own self assessment and goal setting. In future years, other factors will be added to the ratings, including measures of student performance and evidence of parent and student satisfaction.
The public schools adopted the system last year, and set an Islandwide goal to orient themselves with the process which has many working parts. The entire process is time consuming, Mr. Moore observed. “I think it’s good work but it’s a lot of work,” he said.
Next year, the charter school will evaluate the remaining 30 staff members, including teaching assistants and administrators.
An important new feature of the system is the emphasis on unannounced observation of lessons or meetings with other staff members. Ratings given to teachers are not final, and teachers in all classifications are encouraged to improve their practice.
“The whole process is not a punitive process,” said regional high school principal Stephen Nixon. “It’s all about improvement. The goal is for every professional to improve and continue improving toward the exemplary rating.”
He said he was pleased that 71 per cent of high school educators were named proficient, but said there was still room for improvement. “You are never satisfied with what you have,” he said. “Considering it was the very first year of a new evaluation system, I am happy with the results and I am sure over the course of time, once everyone gets more familiar with the system, those numbers will keep progressing.”
At the high school, six staff members performed the evaluations, including the principal, the two assistant principals, the directors of guidance, special education and vocational education. Each year, educators develop personal and team goals for their practice, which Mr. Nixon said will inevitably lead them to improve their performance.
“It’s all about everyone trying to be the best they can be so that the kids can get the best possible education,” he said.
Island teachers performed on par with the rest of the state.
Statewide more than 90 per cent of experienced teachers scored proficient or better, seven per cent were found needing improvement and 0.7 per cent were unsatisfactory. More than 60 per cent of eligible educators were evaluated throughout the state, including administrators and other licensed professionals. Grades for individual superintendents are assigned by school boards. Mr. Weiss will be given his grade in December.
The ratings are designed to give teachers and administrators better feedback than they had received previously, and help them build on strength and identify areas of improvement, said Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester in a Thursday morning conference call with reporters. “Historically, we have not done a good job of distinguishing between high-flying [educators] and those that can do better,” he said. In future years, standards for teacher training programs will be made to align more closely with the new evaluation standards. Mr. Weiss said he agrees with the intent, but is concerned by the demands of the system. “The new system is very complicated and there is a lot of give and take in it,” the superintendent said. “From that point of view I am concerned about the level of work involved.”
Overall, he said a strong focus on teaching is key. “The relationship between the student and teacher in the classroom is what is going to make or break education,” he said. “That’s why focusing on teacher evaluation and teacher practice is so important.”
Mr. Chester said teacher effectiveness has more influence on student learning than any other factor.
“The cost to a student of having a weak teacher for one year is tremendous,” he said. “The cost of a student having a weak teacher for multiple years puts that student way behind.”
District-specific data, which includes group ratings for teachers, administrators, and other licensed staff, is available at profiles.doe.mass.edu/state_report/educatorevaluationperformance.aspx.