BY LOUISE R. SHAW
Clipper Staff Writer
FARMINGTON – A complex teacher evaluation system put in place in Davis School District is entering a new phase and parents can be part of it by filling out surveys about their children’s teachers.
The survey is just one aspect of a new program made necessary by Senate Bill 64, passed by the Utah Legislature in February 2012, that requires more extensive teacher evaluations by principals, input from students and parents, and assessments by teachers themselves.
In a presentation to the Davis School Board on Tuesday, Nov. 5, Patti Brown, director of quality education, outlined the new system and what Davis School District has done to implement it.
Teachers must first prepare a professional growth plan that includes reviewing data on student scores, doing a self-assessment, setting goals and making plans for further professional development.
All these aspects, along with the rest of the requirements, have been built into a computer program created by the district that leads teachers through the process.
Many teachers have been enthusiastic about the computerized system, Brown told the Clipper.
“They love the online part,” said Brown, after meeting with a group of teachers this week. “The self-assessment template really made them think about their practice.”
The goals that have resulted, Brown told the board, include performance and academic goals that are measurable and timely.
“Some have been incredible,” said Brown of the goals. “They have been very, very thoughtful.”
Principals, who may formerly have visited classrooms of new teachers by appointment once or twice a year, must now visit all teachers’ classes three times each year. Those visits, or observations, are to be unscheduled and last 20 minutes each.
While that puts principals and assistant principals in the classrooms much more than in the past, that is where they should be, according to district leaders.
Tamara Lowe, school board president, asked how the district can ensure that principals are evaluating fairly and not showing favoritism or giving all teachers abnormally low or high scores.
Training is underway for administrators who must use the new evaluation system as well, according to district leaders.
Helene Van Natter, an elementary school director for the district, told the Clipper that in a training last week, three principals visited a classroom and then reviewed the scores they had given the teacher to learn if they are rating teachers equally.
“The teachers are appreciative of the feedback,” said Van Natter. “Most are doing such a good job that it is thrilling to have someone come in and validating, to have someone recognize how hard you’re working.”
Both Brown and Van Natter have been principals in district schools.
Current principals have been provided with iPads and an app that was developed to help them through the observation and evaluation.
Their comments and scores will be on the teachers’ records, also part of the online data that goes with the teacher.
The new law requires “stakeholder” input as well, which is where parents come in.
Parents are invited to answer six questions about each of their children’s teachers. For those with students in junior high and high school, they will have the chance to score all teachers in their children’s schedule.
The survey asks if their child enjoys being in class, if he or she understands work assignments and if the parent would recommend that teacher to another parent, among other questions.
In addition, students will fill out longer surveys on each teacher.
Having the survey at the end of the first semester gives students enough time to know their teacher and teachers enough time to change before the year is out.
In the first day the parent survey opened online, 1,600 surveys were filled out. The last day for completing surveys is Dec. 20.
“Plan, teach, check,” is the concise, three-word standard the district has outlined for teacher effectiveness, according to Brown, encapsulating long lists of standards laid out by state and district educators.
“We want to make our expectations for teachers manageable,” she said, and planning appropriate curriculum, teaching effectively and checking to make sure children understand, are the fundamental keys to effective instruction.
The new system provides “something that really helps them reflect on their practice and determine for themselves the best opportunities for growth, and stimulate conversations between principals and their teachers,” said Brown.
Change can be difficult, she said.
“Evaluation is something that gives people a lot of anxiety, but this is about you growing professionally. This is good information for you to take a look at, be reflective and improve your practice,” said Brown of teachers. “We know that the vast majority of our teachers are doing an excellent job.”