Louisiana’s 60,000 public school teachers are about to face their first job evaluations under a new review system that continues to spark controversy and questions.
The overhaul stems from a 2010 law pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal. It is supposed to improve teacher quality, in part by linking annual job reviews to student performance.
Classroom observations by principals and others, which have been used for years, have also been revamped.
Under previous rules, teachers underwent formal job reviews every three years. However, all but a handful of teachers routinely won satisfactory ratings.
“Everybody was satisfactory unless you were just a doorknob,” said Charity Moran, an instructional specialist in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.
Now teachers, some as early as next week in the Baton Rouge area, will face two-part job reviews that are causing some nervousness.
Suzanne Harris, executive director of the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, said teachers she spoke with favor accountability and want to excel.
“But there are concerns,” Harris said.
“Teachers still have questions about the equation and how it affects them,” she said. “We have actually taken on the big job of letting teachers know how the process works so they are not so frightened about it.”
One reason for the stress stems from the fact that bad job reviews carry consequences.
While numbers are expected to be small, those who get back-to-back ineffective ratings face dismissal proceedings after the second school year.
The heart of the new system will apply to about 20,000 of the state’s teachers in math, English and other subjects that are subject to objective tests.
Under the plan, half of a teacher’s review — insiders call it value added — will be linked to the growth of student achievement as measured by standardized tests, including LEAP and iLEAP.
Student expectations will be based largely on how students fared in previous years, which experts used by the state say is a reliable guide for future performance.
The other half of the review will be based on the classroom observations.
However, that portion of the job check will use a different rubric this time, which is another factor sparking anxiety.
Job evaluations for the other 40,000 or so teachers — like art, music and physical education instructors — will also consist of two parts.
One is classroom observations.
The other will focus on improvement during the school year — called student-growth targets — that is supposed to be hammered out by teachers and their evaluators at the start of the school year to measure gains.
The goal is to finish the reviews by the end of the school year, or close to it, said Molly Horstman, director of the new system for the state Department of Education.
Rambo Shutz, who teaches special education at Pointe Coupee Central High School in Morganza, said while the new job reviews will frighten some he likes the change.
“We should be held to established standards,” Shutz said of teachers.
He said he especially likes having input in setting yearly student improvement goals that will be a key part of his evaluation.
Tia Mills, who teaches children with autism in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, said in an email response to questions that the new reviews have forced her to restructure the way she teaches.
Mills said teachers have gotten information on the new reviews from a variety of sources and it has “eased the anxiety in teachers if there has been any.”
Moran and others said one of the keys is what kind of support teachers will get to improve their instruction.
While most public schools only began a few weeks ago the new evaluations are a frequent topic of conversation, said Patrice Pujol, superintendent of the Ascension Parish school system.
“And it is something that superintendents and school districts are spending a lot of time appropriately implementing,” she said.
Pujol said the classroom observation part of the reviews could begin in some schools as early as next week.
She said she expects only a “miniscule” percentage of teachers in her district — one of the top in the state — to wind up with ineffective ratings.
The annual reviews will be linked to tenure — a form of job protection — starting in the 2013-14 school year.
About 5,500 principals and others underwent training recently on how to evaluate teachers.
But the state’s two largest teacher unions, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and Louisiana Association of Educators, opposed the law when it went through the Legislature and remain so.
LFT President Steve Monaghan said his organization asked the department for details of evaluation methods on June 28 but got no response.
“There is very little logic to this,” Monaghan said.