Pittsburgh teachers fare well in new rating system

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The first official results of a new classroom teacher performance ratings system in Pittsburgh Public Schools found more teachers are considered distinguished and fewer are failing than in a dry run last year.

The ratings, given individually to teachers Thursday and released in aggregate today, show 96.9 percent of 1,721 teachers were rated distinguished or proficient.

There are 28 teachers — 1.6 percent — who are considered failing and were given unsatisfactory ratings. They will be given a chance to improve, including extra help. If they get another failing rating during the next school year, they will be fired.

School Superintendent Linda Lane said the goal of the system is not just to evaluate teachers but to “grow the practice of staff.”

“In order for kids to grow, we have to grow,” she said.

Nina Esposito-Visgitis, president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, said, “We're absolutely excited. We never doubted for a minute that Pittsburgh children had exceptional teachers. We're very proud of our teachers and the steps they took.”

Carey Harris, executive director of A+ Schools, a local education advocacy group, said, “I think it’s encouraging. I’m particularly excited to see 23 percent of our teachers earning a distinguished rating. That just would not have been possible without this new evaluation system to recognize distinguished at all. But to recognize so many teachers performing at that level, I think is great news for Pittsburgh.”

She said the relatively small number of failing teachers is “probably good evidence this is not an evaluation system designed to fire teachers.”

All Pennsylvania school districts must use a new state-mandated teacher evaluation system, starting in 2013-14. Teachers used to be evaluated as satisfactory or unsatisfactory based on observation. In the new system, half of the rating is based on observation and the other half on student outcomes.

Pittsburgh received a waiver from the state so it could use its own measures of student outcomes, including a teacher evaluation and growth system known as RISE, its own growth “value-added” measurement using state and district student test results, and a student survey. The state granted the waiver for one year, and now Pittsburgh is seeking to use its system on into the future.

The figures for 2013-14 released by the district show:

■22.5 percent are distinguished, more than the 15.3 percent in the dry run.

■74.4 percent are proficient, more than the 70.1 percent in the dry run.

■1.5 percent are in needs improvement, less than the 5.3 percent in the dry run.

■1.6 percent are failing, less than the 9.3 percent in the dry run.

Under the old system that relied only on observation, about 3 percent received unsatisfactory ratings in 2012-13.

The teacher union has contended that Ms. Lane set the performance levels higher than required for all other teachers in the state. Ms. Esposito-Visgitis said discussions continue on that point.

Ms. Lane attributed many factors to the improvement, including the work of teachers, principals and others to address the needs identified in the dry run results. She was particularly complimentary about a cadre of teachers known as ITL2s -- for instructional teacher leaders -- who spend part of their day working with other teachers, often in their classrooms, on teaching techniques. There are 65 ITL2s in 40 schools.

"I really think the peer-to-peer is the most powerful model,“ she said.

Both the district and the union provided extra help for teachers. The district counted more than 15 types of professional development, including workshops, focused growth projects, curriculum training, online videos, workshops led by effective teaches and principal feedback.

Ms. Lane also said the two years did not have the exact same group of teachers, noting there has been some turnover.

Those who had low ratings left the district at a higher rate than other teachers, said Sam Franklin, executive director of the office of teacher effectiveness. He estimated that 30 low-rated teachers left in the past year.

There were 1,721 teachers who received educator effectiveness reports and annual rating forms for 2013-14. Of them, 1,305 -- 76 percent -- were rated using multiple measures. Some did not have all of the multiple measures. Only about a third of teachers had enough data for a value-added growth score.

The other 416 were rated using ”preponderance of observation evidence“ because multiple measures weren’t available, such as first-year and early childhood teachers.

The district had 1,799 active classroom teachers as of May 27, but 78 did not receive reports, largely because they had been on leave.

The district’s initial analysis shows there are distinguished teachers at all grade levels, in schools with high-minority and low-income students, in all sections of the city and among teachers at all levels of experience. The failing teachers are spread out as well.

Of the 1,305 teachers rated using multiple measures, 25 percent are rated distinguished. For those with zero to three years of experience, 28 percent are distinguished. For those with 16 or more years, 26 percent are distinguished. The average years of seniority in the distinguished category is 15, with the range from two years to 40 years.

Failing teachers also could be found at varied experience levels, including two teachers with zero to three years of seniority -- accounting for 5 percent of such teachers -- and 11 teachers with 16 or more years -- accounting for 2 percent. The seniority in the failing category ranged from one year to 28 years, with an average of 14 years.

There are 42 teachers who have been hired since 2010 and are now eligible for pay based on performance. Of them, 12 were rated distinguished and move to a schedule that pays more money at each step. Those who are rated distinguished will see their pay next year increase from $48,000 to $55,000, The others will see their pay go from $48,000 to $50,000.

Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.

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