Schenectady superintendent says teacher reviews sharpening focus
SCHENECTADY The new teacher evaluation requirements are time-consuming and making teachers anxious, but they’ve already had a big effect on city schools.
“We see an intense focus on instructional quality that wasn’t there before,” Schenectady City School District Superintendent Laurence Spring said during a presentation at Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting on the Annual Professional Performance Review, the new, state-imposed teacher review process. “That really is a powerful change.”
It’s not that teachers weren’t working hard before, but now they notice, for example, if a student misses reading every week for a musical instrument lesson. Teachers complained to their administrators early this year in that case.
“The teachers were necessarily worried that, ‘If the child is consistently leaving during reading, how am I supposed to make sure that child makes gains in reading?’ ” Spring said.
The music teacher worked a split schedule and couldn’t change the class to a different time. Spring said he’s not yet sure what the solution was in that case, but he supported the teachers’ concerns about core education.
In response to the new review, teachers must do more than simply intend to teach all their students; they have to write out plans to reach their goals for becoming better teachers over the course of the year, with the help of their supervisors, who will judge them on how well they accomplished their goal. In Schenectady, teachers have looked at their skills and drawn up plans for “ambitious” improvements, with the help of their principals, Spring said.
Principals will observe each teacher two to three times during the school year, as well as looking at test data, assignments turned in by students, interviews from teachers and other information. It all comes down to how much they can get their students to improve this year, and that has teachers nervous, but it also has them focused, Spring said.
Teachers have gone through their student lists, looking at which students are nearing proficiency in core classes and which ones are far from mastering grade-level work. Now they’re trying to get a “reasonable” number of those students to catch up with their peers, Spring said.
Principals are being judged, too, not only on how they lead their school, but also how well their students perform. Spring said he held a goal-setting meeting for principals early this year to discuss how they would get more of their students to grade level by the end of the year, and he was pleased by their plans.
“Every single one of them thought we should be able to move a significant number of students,” he said, calling the plans “pretty ambitious.”
All this effort is taking a lot of time — principals are spending about 12 hours per teacher on goal-setting, observations and other parts of the review process. Spring said the amount of time has him worried, particularly in schools where the principal does not have an assistant.
When the principal is observing a teacher, he said, a student in another room might have a crisis and need an administrator.
“There are an awful lot of other things administrators do that get pinched,” he said. “There are a number of management tasks we have concerns about.”
But, he said, the process is worth it because teachers have focused so much effort on improving their instruction.
“We just have concerns because of the nature of our economics,” he said, citing the district’s inability to afford assistants for many principals.
To lighten the load, higher-level administrators are also doing observations, said Patricia Paser, assistant to the superintendent.