By Daniel C. Humphrey and Julia E. Koppich
The San Juan Unified School District enrolls 46,000 students in the suburbs of Sacramento. Along with the district, The San Juan Teachers Association (SJTA) set the stage for rethinking teacher evaluation in 1999 when they established a Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) program for struggling experienced teachers and a revamped Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) program.
Their experience with PAR and BTSA revealed that struggling veteran teachers and beginning teachers could be well supported by their expert peers, called Consulting Teachers, and that the union and the district could work collaboratively to tackle meaningful educational issues.
The success of PAR and BTSA stood in sharp contrast to the broader teacher evaluation system that both the union and district recognized was compliance-based and largely ineffective. In 2011, the union and district agreed to design a system whose central purpose is to support teachers’ continuous professional growth. In January 2013 the district and union convened a Joint Evaluation Committee.
Joint Evaluation Committee Work
The Joint Evaluation Committee, composed of the SJTA President, three classroom teachers, a Consulting Teacher, the district (SJUSD) Assistant Superintendents of Secondary and Human Resources, and three site administrators, began by examining research on evaluation and professional growth.
The Committee also developed and administered surveys to teachers and principals to capture their views on the existing evaluation system. Teachers reported they wanted more frequent and meaningful feedback, peer involvement in evaluation, and multiple indicators of their performance. Principals reported the system was superficial, inconsistent, and lacked accountability.
Features of Professional Growth
Based on gathered evidence, the Committee agreed to drop the word “evaluation” and re-brand the emerging work as the System of Professional Growth, drop “evaluator,” and replace it with “facilitator,” and swap “evaluatee” for “practitioner.” The Committee also adopted Nine Essential Elements, derived from the California Standards for the Teaching Profession, and rubrics to measure these as the guiding principles for the new system:
The guiding principles hold that the process should:
- Provide differentiated supports for teachers at different stages of their careers;
- Attend to the support needs of educators in core and non-core subjects, as well as non-classroom educators (resource teachers, counselors, nurses);
- Be based on a continuum of professional standards;
- Provide for timely and meaningful formative and summative feedback and the resources needed for improvement;
- Use evidence of performance based on multiple sources;
- Include opportunities for collaboration, including options for peer review;
- Acknowledge the multiple responsibilities of teachers;
- Insure fairness through training and calibration of facilitators, transparency, adequate resources and time; and,
- Build in mechanisms to review, evaluate, and modify the new system as needed.
These principles provided a foundation for developing system prototypes. During the 2014-15 school year, the district committed $150,000 for 90 practitioners and facilitators—trained administrators and teachers whose main work is to ask thoughtful questions to help practitioners reflect on evidence-based practice—to participate in prototyping activities. From prototyping and follow-up practitioner focus groups, the Committee learned of implementation challenges to the emerging system and modified it accordingly.
In the Professional Practice Phase of the new system, the facilitator and practitioner meet to review the rubrics, identify the practitioner’s selected focus areas, and schedule observations. Facilitators conduct two observations, followed by debriefs based on evidence collected during the observations, and two reflective conversations focused on additional evidence the practitioner may choose to include. The facilitator and the practitioner hold an end-of -year meeting to reflect and plan for continuing improvement.
The new system also includes a mechanism for providing additional supports for teachers whose performance may not be on track for meeting standards. The facilitator who has concerns about the practitioner’s performance submits evidence from two observations and a reflective conversation to the program’s Advisory Team.
Advisory begins when the Team confirms the practitioner may not be on track to meet standards. An advisor is assigned and together the practitioner and advisor create a support plan. If the practitioner meets standards after the Advisory Process, he/she returns to the Professional Practice Phase the following year. When a practitioner has not met two or more standards after participating in advisory, the practitioner, advisor and a Consulting Teacher create an improvement plan and the practitioner is referred to Peer Assistance and Review for the next school year.
Piloting the System of Professional Growth
During the 2015-16 school year, the district committed $500,000 to piloting the new system in five schools. Importantly, the district suspended the old teacher evaluation during piloting, except for teachers whose evaluation is required by the Education Code or other special circumstances. Prior to piloting, facilitators were trained to calibrate observation skills, build understanding of the Nine Essential Element rubrics, and hone communication skills to focus on inquiry and reflective conversations.
Communications from SJTA and the district have been essential during development of the new system. SJTA has distributed newsletters, held meetings, and used practitioners who participated in prototyping to explain the new system to colleagues. More detail about the San Juan system.
SJTA and SJUSD have now reached agreement on tentative contract language on the new professional growth system. Teachers and the school board will vote on the language this spring. Full implementation of the new system is expected for the 2016-17 school year.
Julia Koppich is president of Koppich & Associates and Daniel Humphrey is an independent consultant.
The opinions expressed in On California are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.