Nothing in our schools affects student achievement more than the quality of the classroom teacher. As we work together to transform education in Rhode Island, our highest priority is to ensure that every student has great teachers and that every school has great leadership. An excellent and rigorous evaluation system will provide all educators with high-quality feedback about their work, which will help them continue to advance their skills and to improve student achievement every year throughout their careers.
Beginning this school year, we are proud to move forward with an evaluation system for teachers and principals that represents the best thinking from around the state and from around the country. Rhode Island teachers and school leaders have been involved in designing and developing our evaluation models right from the outset. By including many voices in the design process, we created a system that recognizes that schools and classrooms are complex places. We want this system to be a valuable tool for educators, and that can only happen if we have their trust and confidence.
Throughout the evaluation process, all educators in Rhode Island will learn more about what’s happening in their classrooms and schools – what’s working, what’s not – and about how to improve their performance. Teachers will develop a set of goals, will experience several classroom observations, and will meet regularly with school leaders to discuss their work, progress, and challenges. Through planning, partnerships, professional development, and performance review, teachers and school leaders will focus on what’s happening in our classrooms – which I’m sure is always the most rewarding and fulfilling part of their work.
Though our evaluations will be rigorous, we are confident that the evaluations will be fair to everyone. We will never make judgments or decisions based on any single piece of evidence or test.
Of course, student learning is the ultimate measure of an educator’s success. We will use assessment results as one of many ways to measure student growth and achievement over time. Teachers will also set expected outcomes at the beginning of the year. Did their students meet these outcomes? We will look at evidence such as end-of-course exams, portfolios of work, and other assessment results to help us measure student growth and achievement over time.
For purposes of educator evaluation, we are not interested simply in what percentage of students attain proficiency. We are interested in how much students improve – based on where they stood academically when they entered the classroom and how much they have grown and achieved by the end of the school year. At the end of the day, the question will be: Did your students improve academically during the time they were in your classroom?
Teachers will have multiple opportunities to demonstrate their effectiveness, and the few teachers who fall below the standard will receive the support they need to improve their professional skills. Further, we will monitor the process to ensure that the evaluation system is fair and valid.
Most important of all, the purpose of our evaluation system is to support teachers and school leaders as they work to advance learning and to close achievement gaps. During the coming year, we will work in partnership, along with the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers, to put this new evaluation system into action in every school. As we continue to improve teaching and learning, I am confident that Rhode Island can have the best public schools in the country and that we can prepare all of our students for success.
Deborah A. Gist is Rhode Island Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. She can be reached at Deborah.Gist@ride.ri.gov