New teacher evaluation process set to begin in Pittsburgh Public Schools

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Teacher evaluation systems can determine who keeps a job and who goes, but what can such systems do to improve all teachers in the classroom?

The new evaluation system developed by Pittsburgh Public Schools includes so much help that A+ Schools, an education advocacy group, is calling it the new "teacher improvement system."

On Monday, A+ Schools released a report examining the complex evaluation system that will take effect in the 2013-14 school year.

"We have a system now that is much more detailed, that reflects five years of collaboration between teachers and administrators, that is a vast improvement from what the system was five years ago," said Amy Scott, director of research and data analysis for A+ Schools.

Historically, Pennsylvania teachers were rated solely on classroom observation. Beginning in 2013-14, a new state law requires half of the rating to be based on observation and half on student outcomes in all school districts.

In Pittsburgh, the observation half comes via Research-based Inclusive System of Evaluation (RISE), which is aimed at improving both the way principals observe teachers and providing opportunities for professional growth.

Other pieces are the district's own valued-added measurements aimed at showing how much learning a student has gained in a year based on tests, student surveys and building-level data.

While the new system takes effect in 2013-14, the district recently told teachers what their ratings would have been under the new system if it had been in effect in 2012-13 and provided specific ways for them to get help where they need it.

Overall, the district found that 85 percent of classroom teachers were performing proficient or above -- including 15.3 percent who were distinguished -- 5.3 percent in the "needs improvement" category and 9.3 percent failing.

Under the 2012-13 system, 3 percent were rated unsatisfactory, the rest satisfactory.

The state has given Pittsburgh permission to operate its system differently than other districts in the state.

Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers officials contend the district's standards appear to be tougher than those that will be faced in other districts.

In its report, A+ Schools did not weigh in on the debate over whether the district has set the line too high to meet the standard.

The A+ Schools report praised the district for using "multiple measures," which it said are more reliable than the old measure of just classroom observations.

Of those teachers participating in RISE, the A+ Schools report notes 95 percent were rated proficient or distinguished -- on communicating with students and organizing physical space.

About a third of teachers in RISE received a score of "basic" on using questioning and discussion techniques.

"This means teachers may ask lower level questions and not always engage all students in discussions or clarify their misconceptions," the report stated.

The report noted that Pittsburgh should continually work to make sure the measures are reliable, accurate and provide timely feedback for improvement to teachers.

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Education writer Eleanor Chute: or 412-263-1955.


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