Some teachers will be evaluated differently in Syracuse city schools this year.
That’s to meet a state requirement to keep $11.5 million in grants for struggling schools in the Syracuse City School District.
“It was something that we needed to get done now,” said said Michael Henesey, the district’s communications coordinator.
To get the grants, the district was under a deadline for submitting yearly plans to strengthen low-performing schools. The new evaluations will be used for the 2011-12 school year only and at seven chronically low-performing schools. Under the new evaluations, teachers will be evaluated on how well students do in all subject areas, not just the individual teacher’s area of expertise.
This means teachers who do not teach subjects such as English or math will be evaluated partially based on how the students in the school do on English and math tests, said Stephanie Pelcher, director of the Syracuse Teacher Center. The center provides space for teachers and administrators to meet and do workshops.
The focus on overall student achievement is a huge change for teachers, Pelcher said, by emphasizing broader results. “That was always part of the discussion of being evaluated, you know ‘How are your kids doing?’,” she said. “Now, it’s a definite piece that’s going to be part of evaluation.”
The changes come as part of part of an agreement for the district to receive money from the state department of education to help improve struggling schools. These specific grants are called school-improvement grants. All together, the grants for the seven struggling schools in the district equal around $11.5 million.
The schools using the new evaluation system this year are Corcoran, Fowler, Henninger and Nottingham high schools, Hughes and Grant middle and Delaware Elementary.
To continue getting the money, the districts must submit plans that describes how the persistently low-performing schools will improve.
The district worked with the Syracuse Teachers Association to develop a teacher and principal evaluation system. About 10 other districts in the state also had their grants suspended and Syracuse was one of the first to get its grants back, district spokesperson Henesey said.
“It was pretty collaborative here,” Henesey said. “They were able to iron out this agreement in a very short amount of time. I mean, there’s still districts now who can’t seem to make any headway and have been rejected by state education.”
The special one-year teacher evaluations include these components:
- Student achievement
Student achievement will be measured by state-assessment test, run by the New York State Education Department. For example, high school students take Board of Regents exam.
- Measures selected by local school officials
For elementary and middle schools, local district officials chose to look at overall student achievement based on English Language Arts and math scores. For high schools, the focus is based on English and math scores from the Regents exam.
- Observations of teachers in their classrooms
Teachers will undergo two observation visits for the year. One will be announced, the other will not. One will be conducted by a certified administrator, usually the principal or vice principal. Both observations must be done by evaluators certified by the state.
Under the old system, tenured teachers could opt out of the observations and use other measures, said teacher center director Pelcher. Now, the observation is required even for tenured teachers.
In June, the district is required by the state to devise another improvement plan for the low-performing schools.
(Meghin Delaney is a junior with double majors in magazine journalism and political science.)