Schools Superintendent Bill Gretzula opposes a state plan to base half of teacher and principal evaluations on student achievement.
“There are many other factors that can be considered in measuring the effectiveness of the adult in the teaching/learning process,” he said.
Gretzula's comments come in the wake of a statement by new state Education Secretary Ron Tomalis expressing skepticism over recent evaluation results from 747 districts that rate 99.4 percent of teachers and 99.2 percent of principals as satisfactory.
“At first glance these results appear to be encouraging; however they raise serious concerns about the quality of the evaluation system and whether it has any relevance to what happens in the classroom,” Tomalis said in a recent press release.
“It is very difficult for me to rationalize how our state can have virtually 100 percent of educators evaluated as satisfactory when, based on the statewide assessment, one in four students are scoring below proficient in reading, and one in three are scoring below proficient in math,” he continued. “What's more disturbing, based on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) more than half of our fourth- and eighth-grade students are scoring below proficient in math and reading."
“I believe these results are a clear indication that our current evaluation system is in major need of change," Tomalis said.
Using nearly $800,000 in the form of a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant, the state Department of Education is developing a new evaluation system.
As proposed, student achievement would count for 50 percent of an educator's evaluation. Gretzula said this week he is concerned with Tomalis' skepticism and the proposed changes are based on the results of students' scores on standardized tests and the NAEP.
“Neither of these student achievement measures should be used to determine the success of teachers or administrators. They too narrowly define what constitutes success in schools,” he said. For instance, he said, the planned change would ignore student achievement in performing and visual arts or ROTC.
“Our mission is to educate the whole child,” he said. “To base evaluations only on reading and math scores misses the mark on all the other ways that kids can be successful.”
Gretzula – a former teacher and principal who is heading back to the classroom next year in order to have more time to spend with his family – said the state study may have ignored something important.
“Although I haven’t read the full study report, it is possible the study failed to take into account that unsatisfactory ratings are not necessary to remove an incompetent staff member from his or her position,” he said. “The role of administration is to evaluate the employee and offer support first to those staff members who may be struggling in some manner. Once improvement plans are developed and implemented, improved performance should ensue; however, for those staff who continue to struggle, progressive disciplinary measures can be enacted to ensure poor performance is not tolerated in classrooms and schools."
“I am not certain why the Secretary is quoted as saying 'The current system makes it extremely difficult to be rated as unsatisfactory'” Gretzula said.
Dr. Carolyn Dumaresq, state Education Deputy Secretary, outlined the new evaluation proposal earlier this month before the state Senate Education Committee. It consists of four components: classroom observations, school performance on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exams, teacher performance and other criteria determined at the local level.
The state Department of Education is planning to implement the new system in the 2012-2013 school year.
While opposed to the planned change, Greztula said he is pleased the state is studying the way teachers and principals are evaluated because the current system is “somewhat broad,” and glad it has included administrators and representatives from the State Education Association in the process.
Pointing out that the state has a new governor and new education secretary, Gretzula voiced his own skepticism.
“They're skeptical of something that was approved by the state Department of Education,” he said. “Sometimes you need to look internally.”