If a new teacher evaluation system had been in effect this past school year, more Pittsburgh Public Schools teachers would have received unsatisfactory ratings than actually received them.
A dry run shows that 9.3 percent of city classroom teachers would have received failing -- the new term for unsatisfactory -- ratings, compared to the roughly 3 percent who actually received unsatisfactory ratings in June.
The new system doesn't take effect until this coming school year.
Teachers and principals received the teachers' reports in recent days so they can address the issues raised in them during the school year before the system is used for official ratings.
Pittsburgh officials said it is the only district in the state giving its teachers an advance look without any stakes attached.
The district plans to offer 15 types of professional development -- ranging from online videos to teacher learning communities -- individually focused on each teacher's needs.
Across Pennsylvania, state law requires school districts to switch from an evaluation system based on principal observation to one for which principal observation counts for only half of the evaluation in the 2013-14 school year.
The state has given Pittsburgh -- the only district to apply -- permission for one year to use a different system than other school districts.
The district has been working for four years on its system, including engaging more than 400 teachers to help develop an observation piece aimed at identifying strengths and weaknesses to help teachers improve.
Pittsburgh was able to set its own levels for determining the four state categories for teacher evaluations: failing, needs improvement, proficient and distinguished.
The dry run results showed 85 percent of classroom teachers were performing proficient or above, including 15.3 percent who were distinguished. There were 5.3 percent in needs improvement and 9.3 percent in failing.
Teachers may be fired after two consecutive failing ratings.
According to research by Mathematica Policy Research Inc., a student taught by a teacher rated distinguished has 7.2 more months of learning growth in a year than a student taught by one rated failing.
"We still believe adult performance is our biggest lever for improving the academic performance of children," said Ms. Lane.
Even the distinguished teachers will be given feedback and support on how to improve.
Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers officials said they are concerned that Pittsburgh may have set a higher standard than the state did.
Noting the state formula hasn't played out in other districts yet, William Hileman, PFT vice president, said Pittsburgh is requiring its teachers to score a higher portion of total points in order to clear the failing line.
"There are teachers who are doing good work who are going to be recognized as not doing so," said Mr. Hileman.
PFT president Nina Esposito-Visgitis said, "We do feel the cut scores are out of whack nationally and statewide. We want this to be seen as a growth tool, not a tool where we gotcha."
Superintendent Linda Lane said, "The ranges that we have set are fair and reflect our careful analysis as well as our work with national experts and long reflection."
Sam Franklin, the district's executive director of the office of teacher effectiveness, said he couldn't say whether the district's standards are tougher than the state's, but he added, "I don't think it's that valuable an exercise to compare our system to the state. ...
"We feel it's the right place for us to be. Teachers who are below that level really need support and time to improve so we can do what's right for our students."
Both the state's and Pittsburgh's systems will count observation for half of the rating.
The remainder will be made up of various factors related to student outcomes, including student test scores.
In Pittsburgh, 30 percent will be based on teacher-specific data, usually student growth using state and local test data where available; 15 percent data, usually student surveys; and 5 percent on building-level test results.
Education writer Eleanor Chute: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1955.