Pittsburgh Public Schools is poised to become the first district to seek state approval for its teacher evaluation plan under a new state law.
City school board members are expected to review the plan at a committee meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday and then vote on it Jan. 23.
Traditionally, school districts have based teacher evaluations on classroom observation, resulting in 99 percent of teachers in the state being deemed satisfactory.
The new state law, which affects teacher evaluations statewide for 2013-14, sets four levels of performance: distinguished, proficient, needs improvement and failing.
The new law requires half of a teacher's evaluation to be based on classroom observation and the other half on "multiple measures of student achievement."
For the classroom observation portion, Pittsburgh's school district already uses a program it developed called RISE -- Research-Based Inclusive System of Evaluation -- which was piloted in 2009-10 and used districtwide in 2010-11. RISE includes not only observations but feedback and discussion aimed at professional growth. About 3 percent of teachers who need extra help have improvement plans that are used in evaluations instead.
RISE is built on a framework developed by Charlotte Danielson, who runs a high-profile education consultant group.
The state has adopted the Danielson framework for districts across the state to use.
For the other half of the evaluation, Pittsburgh proposes 5 percent for building-level results, 30 percent for teacher-specific data and 15 percent for elective data, in most cases student surveys of individual teachers.
The percentages are different than those specified in the law -- giving more weight to teacher-specific data and less to building-level data and elective data.
The state allots 15 percent of the teacher's evaluation to building-level results as one way to encourage teachers to work as teams.
However, Nina Esposito-Visgitis, president of the city's teachers union, the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, said a percentage that large would discourage teachers from choosing to work in struggling schools.
Sam Franklin, executive director of the district's office of teacher effectiveness, said district officials, teachers and expert advisers wanted the highest weight for accountability to be on factors most within a teacher's control, and noted that the district has more individual data than most other districts.
For determining building-level results and teacher-specific data, Pittsburgh wants to use its own value-added measurement rather than the Pennsylvania Value Added Assessment System.
Value-added approaches look at how much students grow academically in a year rather than just whether they make the grade-level standard.
While both PVAAS and the district's value-added approach use state test scores, Pittsburgh's takes into account more factors, adjusting for free- or reduced-price lunch eligibility, the number of English language learners, the number of gifted students, and other characteristics.
For the elective data, Pittsburgh wants to use its student survey of teachers, known as Tripod.
Where possible, Pittsburgh would use multiple years of data.
Not all teachers have state test data or student survey data, however.
Only about 35 percent to 40 percent of teachers have test scores that can be used for evaluation. About 80 percent had student survey data last year.
The challenge is developing other ways for teachers who don't have a value-added measurement to demonstrate their effectiveness.
Exactly how this will be executed is still being developed, but the teacher-specific data may build on one portion of RISE in which the principal rates evidence of student growth, such as examples of student work.
Also not determined are the cut scores for the four performance levels. The district will seek permission from the state to set its own cut scores, given its measures may be different than those of other districts.
Also under Pittsburgh's plan, teachers will be able to receive up to 3 points in each of the four categories.
In test runs, no one achieved a 3-point weighted average and none received a zero weighted average, either.
"Most people are going to be performing in that middle," Mr. Franklin said.
The measures already are familiar to teachers because they have been developed over the past several years.
If the evaluation standards are approved by the state, district officials plan to give each teacher his results by the start of 2013-14 so he can see them before the results count.
"Our goal is to make sure we try to do as much as we can in advance so that our teachers feel this is about improving practice, not about just trying to be compliant and meet regulatory requirements," said Lisa Fischetti, district chief of staff.
It took committees of teachers, district officials and technical advisers several years to get this far.
Cory Koedel, assistant professor of economics at the University of Missouri, who is a technical consultant for the district, said the district's work on teacher evaluations has been "exemplary."
As for other districts, he said, "I think they should all call Pittsburgh and ask for their advice. I am serious. This stuff is very hard, and it takes time to get it right.
"Pittsburgh is way ahead of most districts on this stuff, which will likely make their system more effective to the benefit of their teachers and, more importantly, their students."
Education writer Eleanor Chute: email@example.com or 412-263-1955.