All North Carolina school districts will start linking student growth to teacher evaluations, the state Department of Public Instruction announced Thursday, June 28.
By taking an ongoing snapshot of a student's progress each year, the Department of Public Instruction sees an opportunity to provide teachers with useful information that will improve student and teacher progress.
Thursday's announcement represents an expansion of current efforts, as only some North Carolina school districts have used the teacher evaluation component of the system in the past six years. Within the next two calendar school years, all the state's school districts will be moved onto the system.
Previously school districts in the state that opted into the SAS Education Value-Added Assessment System would use it to match students who struggled and teachers who excelled at helping struggling students. Those school districts didn't extend their use to the teacher evaluation component of the system, though, which provides a "value-add score" that shows teachers' effectiveness.
North Carolina had been using the assessment system for awhile to determine which teachers do well with different types of kids, said Rebecca Garland, chief academic officer of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. "But we really have never used it formally in an evaluation process."
To get a value-add score, the assessment system looks at students' past performance and predicts how much they will grow in the future based on their past performance. During the year, the assessment system measure whether students meet, exceed or fall short of the prediction.
Each student's score is averaged with the scores of his or her classmates, and teachers receive a value-add score based on how each of their students' actual growth compares with each student's predicted growth.
If the class doesn't meet expectations, teachers will receive help so they can improve. Regardless of how the teachers do, they'll have access to the scores and student information in an understandable format so they can see strengths and weaknesses.
Before federal Race to the Top grants became available, North Carolina was finishing its statewide teacher evaluation system designed for teacher improvement, Garland said. The system included five standards that teachers needed to meet.
But when the Department of Public Instruction received an Elementary and Secondary Education Act waiver, it needed to add student performance as a sixth standard. With the later arrival of Race to the Top, which the state received a grant from, it required a student performance standard.
If teachers aren't proficient in each of these six standards, administrators give them action plans for improvement. The idea is that teachers who do really well will pass on their knowledge to other teachers who aren't doing so well.
"I'm hoping that out of this whole teacher evaluation system we are able to build capacity and knowledge in teachers to make them better," Garland said.
The first five standards include things that principals measure through classroom walk-throughs, lesson and unit plans, assessments, outreach to families and involvement in professional learning communities. A combination of these methods and the value-add score determine how teachers are doing on all six standards.
Garland estimates that 70 to 80 percent of teachers give assessments that can be used to identify a value-add score. SAS is working with the Department of Public Instruction to figure out which of its assessments can be measured.
The department still will need to find other ways to evaluate teachers of physical education and other subjects that prove difficult to measure.
The Department of Public Instruction wants the information to be informative so that teachers can use the data to figure out what topics and which students need additional instruction and attention.
"We don't want it to be the kind of thing where they find out how their kids did the past year, and they don't know how to learn anything from that to improve the next year," said Jennifer Preston, Race to the Top project coordinator for educator effectiveness at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. "That data literacy piece is something that the department's really working on."
While the SAS system is in place and being used for different purposes, the Department of Public Instruction will need to add teachers into the system in districts that haven't used it. That involves setting up accounts so teachers can go on a website and see their students' scores.
The other piece involves training teachers so they know how to access the system and interpret the results. These professional development efforts will include webinars and more visits to school districts to support principals and teachers. With Race to the Top funding, the Department of Public Instruction has been able to add professional development staff, which officials believe will help with this effort.
This coming school year, half of the state's teachers and performance data should be in the system. And by the 2013-14 school year, all teachers and student growth data will be added.