The new teacher evaluation system, deemed by Commissioner Deborah Gist as her magnum opus in her attempt to reform public education in Rhode Island has received some reform of its own. Over the past year, several bills were introduced to the senate and house of the RI General Assembly to alter or revise the new state teacher evaluation system which many critics in education, including school administrators, found to be cumbersome, time-consuming, and unwieldy, to put it mildly. The new evaluation system would require every teacher in every school to receive a formal evaluation every year. Each teacher evaluation required a series of steps, from a pre-observation conference, to a formal observation, one or two informal evaluations, a post-observation conference and a final evaluation conference. In some of the larger schools in the state, especially high schools with as many as 100 teachers, this new system gave administrators and qualified faculty members, such as department chairs and district coordinators, little time to do anything else except teacher evaluations. It became apparent at the end of the first year of the new evaluation system that there was just not enough time to do every evaluation fairly and thoroughly.
As reported in the Journal Bulletin: “The version of legislation approved by the General Assembly requires that any teacher rated as “highly effective” be evaluated every three years. Any teacher rates as “effective” will be evaluated every two years. Teachers with any other mark [those who receive a “developing” rating or “ineffective” rating] will still be subject to annual assessments.” This deviated from an original bill that suggested that the highly effective teachers be evaluated every four years, and the effective teachers every three years.
Tim Duffy, executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, said, “We would have preferred to see the evaluations remain as part of the regulatory process…However, the fact that the legislature adopted [the state Department of Education’s] cyclical model allows principals the discretion to observe classrooms at any time and preserves the right of school committees and unions to negotiate additional standards.”
What this new law does not do, however, is address linking student achievement to teacher evaluations. In Rhode Island, 51% of a teacher’s evaluation is linked to student achievement, which includes test scores and student learning objectives (SLOs). With this in mind, teachers who are not evaluated every year must continue to monitor student achievement in their own classrooms, knowing that they will be assessed on students’ scores when they are evaluated. For ELA teachers, student achievement may be linked to PARCC and to classroom writing assessments. In the future, there is likely to be further discussion on revising the teacher evaluation system to address issues that may arise from the disparity of student scores and the effect they may have on how teachers will score on their evaluations, and if those scores are warranted due to student performance. We will be once again wading out into murky waters.