A New Teacher Evaluation System for Pennsylvania

After numerous meetings and conversations with constituents, teachers, school administrators and education policy experts, I have come to the conclusion that we must have a comprehensive way to identify quality teachers, so that we can retain them, encourage them and ensure students have access to them. We must also be able to assist those teachers who are struggling. The students facing the greatest hurdles to their education must have access to the highest performing teachers. Today, we simply do not have a meaningful method for identifying those teachers.

Our foremost concern must always be our young people and their preparedness for the future that awaits them.  There are many factors, such as a student’s own motivation to learn and parental support, which influence a child’s academic success. However, research is conclusive that high among those factors is an effective teacher in the classroom. Eric Hanushek, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution writes compellingly about the economic impact of teachers on individual students, stating that just one good, not a great teacher, at the 60th percentile can increase a student’s lifetime earnings by $10,600. Those numbers increase dramatically as the percentile increases. Unfortunately, the opposite also holds true. A low-performing teacher can have a negative impact on a student’s lifetime earnings.

In this era of intensifying international competition, our Commonwealth and our nation cannot afford to let our educators continue teaching without meaningful feedback to help them improve their practice and better prepare our children for the future.

Currently, the system in place for evaluating the quality of our educators has been unchanged for nearly 40 years, barring a minor technical change in 1996. In the 2009-10 academic year, 99.4 percent of public school teachers in the Commonwealth received an evaluation rating of satisfactory.  An outdated system that yields such results is clearly not in the best interest of our students or our teachers.

With the guidance of representatives from across the educational spectrum, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has been developing and piloting a new evaluation tool, derived from a rubric developed by Charlotte Danielson, for the past two years.  This fall, the pilot is entering phase II of the program in a study involving more than 100 school districts statewide who have voluntarily signed up to participate and offer feedback on the system.

The need for a more robust teacher evaluation system and the comprehensive aspects of the evaluation tool currently being piloted by the PDE has led to the recent introduction of my bill, House Bill 1980, which would implement a statewide, comprehensive teacher evaluation system.

Under my proposed legislation, student achievement and growth data would make up 50 percent of an educator’s overall evaluation score.

This 50 percent would be calculated using multiple measures of student academic achievement and growth data, and would not focus solely on standardized test scores. Achievement results from the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) and growth data from the Pennsylvania Value-Added Assessment System (PVAAS) must be used together to get a complete picture of student growth and proficiency over an academic year. However, my legislation purposefully provides flexibility, so that school districts can work with the PDE to include other assessments to fairly evaluate teachers, non-teaching professionals, special education instructors, and fine arts and physical education teachers.

The other 50 percent of the evaluation system is based on traditional teacher practices-planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction, and professional responsibilities. These practices, currently being used in the PDE pilot program, are based on the Danielson rubric and have been revised to meet Pennsylvania’s specific needs.

My legislation also replaces the current rating scale of satisfactory and unsatisfactory to include four categories: distinguished, proficient, needs improvement, and failing. This change is needed to provide teachers with more opportunities to improve and gather meaningful feedback about their performance.

Overall, this legislation is intended to serve as a framework. It does not attempt to micromanage every detail of the evaluation process, nor should it. However, it does give the PDE the ability to work with those in the field to implement a comprehensive and effective plan for evaluating various educators.

What I am attempting to do with House Bill 1980 is not without precedent. In fact, we are lagging behind what a majority of others states are currently doing. It’s time for us to be ambitious for our children and for our teachers.

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Ryan P. Aument represents Pennsylvania’s 41st Legislative District.