Evaluations show teacher improvement

School reform initiatives in the Elm City may be paying off, as the results of New Haven’s 2012 teacher evaluations showed marked improvement in faculty performance.

New Haven’s teacher evaluation system, which places teachers into one of five categories ranging from “needs improvement” to “exemplary,” saw an uptick in “exemplary” teachers from 8 to 13 percent. Overall, 90 percent of teachers scored in the top three rankings — “exemplary,” “strong” and “effective” — and 28 teachers at the “needs improvement” level have left the district over the past year. Despite growing approval of the program among principals and faculty, only 50 percent of teachers are reportedly satisfied with the system, an attitude school officials said they are working to improve.

“We know that there’s more work to do,” said Garth Harries, assistant superintendent for the New Haven public school system. “But [these results] reflect good progress and the integrity of a system that we created to improve instruction for kids.”

The increase in “exemplary” teachers may be due to more frequent evaluations, said Michele Sherban-Kline, the director of teacher evaluation and development for public schools. Top teachers often want regular feedback, she explained; under the old system, teachers were not necessarily evaluated every year. Those who earn “exemplary” teaching rankings will also be eligible for “rewards,” Harries said. While the specifics of kind of benefits or rewards will be available for top teachers have not been made public, Harries added that the $53.4 million grant New Haven was awarded from the Department of Education last month will go toward the policy.

The bulk of the teachers ranked either “strong” (53 percent) or “effective” (24 percent). Of the 58 teachers flagged with low-ranking evaluations at the beginning of the year, 20 improved upon their performance and 28 left the district. Despite the loss of public school faculty members, 17 of whom were tenured, school officials said they do not expect the departures will incite any conflict with the teachers union.

“One of the hallmarks here in New Haven is the collaboration with the union,” Harries said. “The union has been very involved in each individual teacher’s case, and in each case, the union and the school district came to a consensus decision.”

Although 28 teachers left the disrtict, school officials are still optimistic about the results of the teacher evaluation.

“It’s a work in progress, but we’re encouraged by the results,” Abee Smith, the spokesperson for the New Haven public school system, said.

Though the improved teacher performance rankings indicate a strengthening public education system in the Elm City, school administrators said the evaluations system has room to be further developed. Although teacher satisfaction wth the system rose from 42 percent to 50 percent this year and principal satisfaction rose from 68 to 72 percent, 25 percent of teachers still reported feeling dissatisfied with the way evaluations are handled. Harries said one way public school adminstrators are working to improve the evaluations sytem is by providing better feedback to teachers on how they can improve their teaching.

Administrators said it is still too early to draw concrete conclusions about the effectiveness of the evaluation system, though educational reform initiatives in New Haven seem to be strengthening schools: In the past two years, New Haven’s test score growth has outpaced the state as a whole by 200 percent, Harries said. Additionally, the city’s high school graduation rate has grown two percentage points, and the number of students on track to graduate has risen by nine percent, he added.

The teacher evaluation system rated 1,457 teachers, 90 principals and assistant principals and 24 central office administrators this year.

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