Pilot teacher evaluation program empowers teachers to improve
Winter Street Elementary second grader Alex Townes, right, listens to Intervention teacher Mandi Raley while she helps with reading skills. (By Yvette May/Staff Photographer)
“When (you) say, ‘Do you have a question?’ a lot of times they want to tell you a story,” said Raley, who often helps students in kindergarten through second grade with reading at Winter Street Elementary School in Hagerstown’s West End.
Through a pilot teacher evaluation program that began this school year at five Washington County public elementary and middle schools, Raley said she’s learning ways to improve her teaching techniques, and she’s seeing results with her students.
“I can see, through my students, that they’re becoming more independent with their reading and writing. They’re more accountable for their learning,” said Raley, who is in her eighth year working for Washington County Public Schools.
Participating in the pilot program, known as Performance Outcomes with Effective Rewards or POWER, are 134 teachers and 14 school-level administrators at Northern and Western Heights middle schools, and Fountaindale, Salem Avenue and Winter Street elementary schools, said Stacy Henson, project manager.
The participating schools were chosen because of their high Free and Reduced-Price Meals, or FARM rates, a measure of poverty.
The school system will need to implement a new teacher evaluation system that takes into account student achievement to comply with mandates in the federal Race to the Top program and the Maryland Education Reform Act of 2010.
The new evaluation system was supposed to start in the next school year, but the state delayed it until the 2013-14 school year, said Donna Hanlin, the local school system’s assistant superintendent for curriculum, school administration and improvement. If the school system doesn’t implement its own new evaluation system, it must adopt the state’s model.
That gives the school system another year to continue piloting at least one teacher evaluation system, Hanlin said. There’s a chance the current pilot program could be tweaked or the school system could add another pilot program, she said.
Through the existing pilot program, groups of teachers with similar improvement goals work together on training tasks. The program is providing more in-depth conversations between teachers and the administrators evaluating them, some participants said last week.
The program also provides financial awards for participants deemed effective or highly effective.
“I’m having deeper conversations about education than I’ve ever had before, especially about instructional practices,” Western Heights Principal Michael Kuhaneck said.
Washington County Teachers Association President Denise Fry, who helped develop the pilot program, said she likes that the pilot program provides a way to practice a new teacher assessment method that includes student achievement before an evaluation program becomes mandatory.
The evaluations through the pilot program are no-fault, so they are not directly tied to teachers’ employment and do not become part of their personnel records, Fry said.
Henson said there are a few participating teachers who are in their evaluation year. Those teachers also are being assessed under the school system’s current evaluation method.
The school system used a $7.4 million federal Teacher Incentive Fund grant to develop and implement the pilot program, with most of that money paying the performance awards to participants deemed effective or highly effective, Henson said.
This school year, a participating teacher could earn a bonus of as much as $7,000 through the program, Henson said. Teachers who opt out before the end of the school year do not receive any financial bonuses through the pilot program, Henson said.
So far, eight teachers have opted out. Some changed their minds before the school year began or opted out for personal reasons, she said.