Over the past two years in the Medway (Mass.) Public Schools, teacher evaluation entered a new era, spurred by state and Race to the Top requirements. For the past 15 years, the district used a traditional system of teacher evaluation, including classroom observations, followed by a summative review, notes Medway Superintendent Judy Evans. Administrator walkthroughs, which took less time than formal observations and provided a snapshot of teacher performance, took place only intermittently and did not include all classrooms.
According to state law, formal observations must occur formally four times a year, and besides state-mandated measures of student growth, Evans says, “We’re changing evaluation by broadening the feedback loop.”
As part of that transition, there’s been a quantum leap in classroom observations and visits. At Medway, walkthroughs are handled by either a principal, Evans, or a team consisting of Evans and several principals. Evans estimates that Medway’s principals can expect to do “several hundred” walkthroughs this year, and Evans plans on doing almost 200. The criteria for both observations and walkthroughs focus on instruction, curriculum planning, parents and community, and professional responsibility.
Along those lines, Medway is turning to new technologies to streamline the process and provide more comprehensive feedback and subsequent professional development. The district uses the PD 360 On-Demand Online Professional Development program created by School Improvement Network (schoolimprovement.com). Using iPads, administrators enter their observations into templates designed for the subject and grade level they are observing, and focus on particular areas of teacher performance from classroom management to aligning lessons with state rubrics.
For example, Evans points out that one template can be organized by the user to evaluate third-grade teachers working on student literacy. The template would contain criteria for accomplishing that task, and observers would add their feedback. In the past, there was no good way to give quick feedback, Evans recalls.
Connecting to Video and Web Content
For areas that need development, evaluators connect the teacher to a trove of videos contained in the PD 360 archives and related to specific areas of teacher practice. For example, if a teacher does not allow enough time for students to answer questions, they can be alerted to watch a video of exemplary teaching, says School Improvement Network’s CEO and President Chet Linton. Evaluators may also connect that teacher to appropriate content on the web and to coaches who can interact online through the PD 360 program and face-to-face. “The technological piece becomes critical because we’re dealing with discussions that can affect jobs,” Linton emphasizes, “and you need a management system that puts all the information in one place.”