How qualified are Pennsylvania's teachers? The numbers say extremely
June 15, 2015 12:00 AM
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The new evaluation system covers all K-12 public schools except charter schools.
By Eleanor Chute / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In the first year of many school districts using a new statewide teacher evaluation system, a greater portion of teachers was rated satisfactory than under the old system.
In figures released by the state Department of Education, 98.2 percent of all teachers were rated as satisfactory in 2013-14 — the highest percentage in five years — despite a new system that some thought would increase the number of unsatisfactory ratings.
In the four prior years, 97.7 percent of teachers were rated satisfactory in all but 2009-10, when 96.8 percent were. These figures count teachers in school districts, career and technical centers, intermediate units and charter schools.
Among other things, critics of the old system questioned whether too many of the state’s teachers were being rated satisfactory in a system that relied only on observation and had only two categories: satisfactory and unsatisfactory.
The new system uses a variety of measures for four performance categories, which determine satisfactory or unsatisfactory ratings.
When the new teacher evaluation system was in discussion, then-Gov. Tom Corbett said, “When over 99 percent of the teachers in the public school systems of Pennsylvania are listed as satisfactory, I know that something’s wrong. You know that something’s wrong.”
The new evaluation system covers all K-12 public schools except charter schools. Some teachers are unrated. If only public school teachers who were rated and did not work in charter schools are considered, the percentage of teachers rated satisfactory in 2013-14 was 99.8 percent.
To look at the numbers another way, 220 teachers not in charter schools were rated unsatisfactory in 2013-14, compared with at least 584 teachers not in charter schools considered unsatisfactory in each of the prior four years, including as many as 709 in 2012-13. Statewide figures are not yet available for 2014-15.
When charter schools are included, 289 teachers were rated unsatisfactory in 2013-14, down from a five-year high of 803 for all public school teachers, including charters, in 2012-13.
Ron Cowell, president of the Education Policy and Leadership Center, said, “I would guess that the results would be surprising to both proponents and opponents of the revised system. I think that a lot of people on both sides anticipated that there would be an increase in the number of teachers who were rated unsatisfactory.”
He noted the new system also has another purpose: encouraging teacher growth.
David Broderic, spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, viewed the results as a reflection of the teaching quality.
“The results show that the vast percentage of educators in Pennsylvania are doing an outstanding job, and we’re not surprised that is the case,” he said.
If charter schools are considered alone, their percentage of satisfactory ratings was 96.3 percent in 2013-14, the lowest of any type of public school.
“Every school uses a different evaluation process, so it’s hard to compare one to another,” said Robert Fayfich, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools,
Some of the comparisons are inexact. In each year, some districts did not report their results to the state. Which ones they were and how many were missing varied year to year.
In addition, a school district was permitted to continue to use its old teacher evaluation system if it was part of an existing teacher contract. However, once that contract is up, the district is required to use the new system.
The new system mandates the use of a more structured and elaborate observation system and calls for it to be used for half, instead of all, of the rating. The remainder of the rating is based on various student performance factors, including student scores on state tests. Pittsburgh Public Schools has permission to use a different set of student performance factors than other districts do.
In addition, the new system set up four categories: distinguished, proficient, needs improvement and failing. Distinguished and proficient are always considered satisfactory. A rating of needs improvement is satisfactory the first time, but is unsatisfactory if a second one is received by the same employer within 10 years. Failing is always unsatisfactory. Two consecutive unsatisfactory ratings can lead to dismissal.
Of the schools reporting to the department for 2013-14, more than 80 percent of the teachers were rated in the proficient category. There were 174 rated as failing while 967 were in the category of needs improvement. Another 15,148 were rated distinguished. The explanation on the data states that satisfactory ratings for those not using the new system are to be included in the distinguished column.
In the Bethel Park School District, where all teachers rated were proficient or distinguished in 2013-14 according to state figures, Janet O’Rourke, director of secondary education 5-12, said she thinks the evaluations are a “driving force in accountability. … It’s one snapshot that I think has actually improved instruction in our classrooms. It has given more value to some of the activities that some of the teachers do. It is more concrete than what we had in the past.”
In the South Fayette School District, which also had all teachers rated proficient or distinguished in 2013-14 according to state figures, officials said the framework used for observation in the new evaluations is time-consuming but offers opportunity for teacher reflection and growth.
Assistant superintendent Michael Loughead said it has helped principals and teachers to understand what quality looks like at a deeper level.
Education writer Eleanor Chute: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1955.
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