Controversial teacher evaluation system put on pause.


HARTFORD – Teachers, who in this gubernatorial election year have been showing up by the hundreds to protest the state’s new controversial evaluation system, will not be judged this year or next based on scores their students receive from a new state standardized test.

At the urging of Gov. Dannel Malloy, the group that developed the controversial teacher evaluation system passed revised guidelines on Wednesday that will give all districts through March to seek a waiver of the system through 2014-15.

“It is apparent we are trying to do a lot of things at once,” Malloy told members of the Performance Evaluation Advisory Committee meeting in State Department of Education offices. “Teachers are stressed. We have to recognize that.”

Kristen Record, a physics teacher at Bunnell High School in Stratford and 2011 Connecticut Teacher of the Year, said the pull back was the only common sense option open to the governor.
“There is little to no support among educators, students, or parents for using standardized test scores as a means of evaluating teacher quality,” she said. It is especially true for a test on a curriculum that is still a work in progress.

Malloy told reporters later this is something he has been working on for seven months and is in response to what he has been hearing.
 He said it is more important to get it right than to do it fast.

Across the street at the state Legislative Office Building, Republican lawmakers praised the delay but said it is not good enough.
  State Rep. Gail Lavielle of Wilton, surrounded by other Republicans, asked that there also to be public hearings on the Common Core that all districts have been struggling to implement.
 “There clearly is wide spread concern,” she said.

She and other lawmakers say they have been hearing from teachers all over the state who are concerned that between a new evaluation system, curriculum and test too much is being asked of them at once. Many also oppose an evaluation system that links job performance, even fractionally to a test.

Republican State. Sen. John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said granting municipalities increased flexibility is long overdue. He called the implementation thus far, a failure.

Republican State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, a ranking member of the education committee didn’t go that far but said, “Too much at once is never a good idea.”

Gary Peluchette, a Bridgeport teacher and president of the Bridgeport Education Association called the delay a good first step in fixing an evaluation system that is greatly flawed.

“We also need to rethink how the common core is being implemented, seeing that professional development for teachers in this area has been almost non existent,” Peluchette said.

The common core standards, adopted by most states, calls for students to learn subjects at greater depths and in a different order than what many classrooms are used to. It comes with a new test that is to be administered via a computer not pencil and paper.
“There is no need to rush,” added Sheila Cohen, president of the Connecticut Education Association and member of the PEAC committee.

Cohen refused to speculate if the change of heart would make teachers more apt to vote for the governor.
 But she and others had pointed questions directed at a University of Connecticut study of the evaluation system that was piloted last year in ten districts, including Bridgeport.
 Rob Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education wondered why few teachers were deemed to be low performing in the pilot.

“Is this what we should expect to see going forward,” said Rader. “I wonder about the reliability.”

Mark Waxenberg, executive director of the CEA, said the evaluation system as it was not only frustrated teachers but could force some of them to play it safe and not take risks that could lead to better student learning.

Joe Vas, a veteran social studies teacher at Danbury High School and the building union rep, was also pleased to hear the news about the delay.

He had attended one of the CEA’s state wide meetings Monday, where teachers were asked to describe their challenges in performing at their best with new evaluations, new common core and the increasing data collection requirements all at the same time.

“This will give us time to concentrate on teaching the kids the best way we can,”
Vas said.

“Tying the results at this stage of the game is too soon,’’ said Kathy DelMonico, a New Milford high school English teacher. “The test has to be much more fine tuned.”

The plan to give all districts the ability to keep state test scores out of the teacher evaluation formula needs expected approval next week by the state Board of Education.

The state must also seek to amend its waiver of the federal No Child Left Behind Law, which details the state’s teacher evaluation process. Malloy said he is confident the change will be approved.
Teachers will still be evaluated, but for the next two years, standardized scores will not count for 22.5 percent of job performance. The committee also gave new flexibility to formally observe teachers deemed proficient or exemplary once every three years instead of three times a year.

Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor also said he is also withdrawing a plan to spend $1 million on an effort to educate the public on the new curriculum.
“We think there may be a better way to do outreach to stakeholders,” Pryor said.

On that, Boucher is pleased as well.
 “The money can be better spent in the classroom,” Boucher said.

Malloy, who made an overhaul of the teacher evaluation system a key part of his education reform agenda, told the PEAC group also he wants a working committee developed comprised of classroom teachers and administrators to share obstacles in carrying out the evaluations and to make recommendations to make it work better.

“We are on the right road. We just have to take time,” Malloy said.

Eileen Fitzgerald contributed to this report.

Linda Lambeck