Issaquah School District to pilot teacher evaluation process

December 13, 2011

By Tom Corrigan

In fall 2013, every Washington public school will implement a state-mandated system to evaluate the performance of teachers and principals.

According to the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the vast majority of districts in the state do not use a research-based instructional framework to guide teacher evaluations. The Issaquah School District is an exception and district officials decided they wanted to be a part of any coming changes.

“We decided we wanted to be on the forefront of that,” said Sara Niegowski, executive director of communications for the district.

With what was described as a small amount of grant money, the schools will begin an evaluation pilot program in the 2012-13 school year. At present, a local committee, consisting of teachers and administrators, is in the process of deciding which of three potential evaluation systems, or frameworks, Issaquah schools will use in the pilot program. A decision must be made by mid-February, Associate Superintendent Ron Thiele said. Officials then must come up with a plan to implement any changes to the current evaluation system.

Frameworks under consideration initially were studied in 13 districts, or consortiums of districts, in the state, Thiele said. Those initial studies earned praise from Thiele, who said he fully supports strengthening teacher evaluations.

“It’s good for the districts, it’s good for the state, it’s good for the teachers,” he added.

When the state decided to expand the framework study, Issaquah officials applied to have the district included in the further work, Thiele and others said.

“We’re just in the very beginning of our work here,” Thiele added.

Of the frameworks under consideration, each meets several criteria spelled out by the state Legislature, including the focusing of instruction on high expectations for student achievement; demonstrating effective teacher practices; and, maintaining a safe, positive learning environment. Issaquah schools already use one of the frameworks, educator Charlotte Danielson’s “Framework for Teaching.” The schools do use an older version of that evaluation system, Thiele stated.

“It wouldn’t be a huge change for us,” said Phyllis Runyon, head of the Issaquah Education Association, the local teachers’ union, talking about continuing with the Danielson framework. But though district officials are familiar with the Danielson method, Runyon stressed no decision to stick with or abandon that method has been made.

A second framework choice was developed by the University of Washington and centers around five “dimensions” of teaching and learning. Those dimensions include criteria such as purpose, student engagement, and classroom environment and culture.

A third and final choice is the Marzano Teacher Evaluation Model, which also centers on specific criteria or domains such as classroom strategies and behaviors, preparation and planning, and professionalism.

Like Thiele, the teachers’ union supports changes in local evaluations, Runyon said, adding Issaquah’s current practice could use some toughening.

“You have to know the negatives before you can move forward,” she said.

At present in Issaquah schools, the Danielson evaluations only apply to new or provisional teachers who have been with the system for three years or less. Still, every teacher in the district is evaluated in some form or another, Thiele said.

“The district really respects and honors its teachers,” Runyon said.

Tom Corrigan: 392-6434, ext. 241, or tcorrigan@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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