November 22, 2014
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Holding teachers accountable

There’s some logic to Warwick teachers’ claims that the Department of Education really had a plan for teacher evaluations all along and the city’s selection to lead the state in its full implementation was a charade. It looks that way when the District Evaluation Committee, which has closely followed the new system and is critiquing it, finds many of its recommendations on the department website the day it finalized its report.

So, what was the point of the work done by Warwick educators?

Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist has an explanation and it makes sense.

Department personnel and consultants have worked in tandem with Warwick as phases of the new system are implemented. This has been, and will continue to be, a team effort. However, Gist says, someone [she doesn’t name who] circulated some conclusions prior to the committee’s report.

Gist understood the impact the dissemination of less than complete information could have and quickly decided to post to the department website system revisions under consideration. She also informed Superintendent Peter Horoschak of the action. In addition, she scheduled a meeting with the DEC for what she imagined would be a working session to review its report along with feedback received from other districts.

It evolved into something much bigger with more than 150 teachers and administrators expressing their views at a meeting at Toll Gate High School last Wednesday.

Was the leak an effort to sabotage the evaluation plan?

Gist doesn’t go there.

She is focused on the desired outcome of designing a system aimed at evaluating both teachers and principals with the purpose of improving learning across the state. She has not revised her agenda to implement the valuation system statewide this year despite union cries that it is not ready and to do so would have negative, rather than positive, outcomes for students.

As Gist observes, the state has listened. The evaluation system has been streamlined, reducing in-classroom visits asked of principals and the volume of paperwork required of both administrators and teachers. Further, Gist is looking for the system to evolve with time and experience. This plan will not be cast in concrete, she says.

The district committee’s report, however, finds the system “cumbersome” and time consuming. It questions the sustainability of the system, considering the investment of time and resources it requires, and recommends the elimination of some components of the program, reductions of others and revisions of still others.

The district analysis is deliberative and well thought out and we can understand how committee members, who invested a lot of time and trust into the process, can feel their input was for naught. On the other hand, we have heard the process described as productive and rewarding as teachers and administrators came together with the common purpose of improving our schools. That’s a positive and an important step to improvement.

Is Gist’s goal of ensuring Rhode Island has excellent teachers in every classroom achievable?

Maybe not, but we must try.

Gist has set the bar high.

“Our teachers are first and foremost professionals. As professionals, teachers need and deserve the latitude and the responsibility to make decisions within their classrooms. Our goal is to create a climate in every school where teachers can be innovative, creative, and accountable for results,” she said in her State of Education Address Tuesday.

Do we want anything less?


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