Teacher Evaluation Reform Gains Traction in Wisconsin

Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Last year, Mosinee Middle School social studies teacher Paul Nievinski chose a new evaluation process his school district offered for experienced teachers. Instead of having his principal sit in his class for several hours during the school year, Nievinski created a professional development plan by evaluating his own performance, setting specific goals for himself and then following up with administrators. Working with his principal, he decided to infuse more technology into his classroom to help today's tech-savvy students grasp his lessons. Ultimately, he came up with a lesson in which students created their own video newscasts, a hands-on project intended to get them more engaged with the study of history. Nievinski, who has taught for 22 years, said "it was more steps, but it was so much better. I loved it." His experience underscores how local school districts are moving toward more sophisticated evaluation methods than the traditional classroom observations. But those changes still are far short of the dramatic reforms called for in all corners of the United States. The most popular of these include using a system of merit pay for teachers; linking a teacher's evaluation with student performance; and finding better ways to measure what it means to be a great teacher. By comparison, north central Wisconsin's four largest school districts use outdated evaluation systems that compensate the best and worst teachers on the same scale, have no direct tie to student performance rates and make it difficult to shed poorly performing teachers, according to a Wausau Daily Herald review of local practices. Local school administrators say they are unlikely to make sudden, major changes to their evaluation methods, even though a new collective bargaining law in Wisconsin allows them to alter performance measures and pay scales without negotiating with unions.

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