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Rochester rolling out new teacher evaluation system

Rochester's more than 1,200 teachers will be graded this fall under a new, "robust" evaluation system that was approved by the Rochester School Board this week.

State law has long required regular evaluations of probationary teachers — those with three years or less of teaching experience. But until recently, there was no similar requirements for more experienced teachers. That changed in 2011 when the Republican-led Legislature passed and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton signed a law requiring regular evaluations of tenured teachers.

Rochester's experienced teachers have for years undergone a performance review once every three years. What sets this new evaluation scheme apart, officials say, will be the criteria and heightened rigor used in the assessments.

The new evaluations will now focus on a teacher's ability to engage students in the classroom as well as their ability to lead instruction. And 35 percent of their grade will be based on student growth and meeting benchmarks based on student test scores.

"Most teachers will do some form of goal setting," said Tyler Livingston, an educator evaluation specialist for the Minnesota Department of Education. "Here's where (my students) are when they walked in the door and here's where I think I can get them at the end of this term."


Starting this fall, as part of their evaluation, Rochester's probationary teachers will undergo three formal observations in each of their first three years. Experienced teachers will undergo a formal evaluation once every three years. Also integral to the plan will be peer observation, where an instructional coach or a teacher in the same grade level provides feedback.

The agreement on a new evaluation system was the work of nearly two years of negotiations between the Rochester Education Association teachers union and district administrators. Similar talks have been going on across the state as districts give shape to new accountability systems. While the state has made a default plan available to districts, the vast majority are deciding to develop their own plans, state officials say.

Even so, during Tuesday's board meeting, Rochester School Board Member Gary Smith quizzed administrators on why Rochester's new system seemed to meet only the law's minimum standards. Specifically, Smith wanted to know what happens to tenured teachers in those years when they are not being formally evaluated.

"Was there any discussion of doing something more than a minimum," Smith said. "I'm not asking to be hard core about it. But as a community that kind of likes to talk about being more than meeting the minimum standards, it sees like we took the lowest road here."

Rochester Superintendent Michael Munoz told the board that there is nothing that prevents a teacher from being "put on an improvement plan and be observed" in a non-evaluation year if circumstances warrant it.

"This isn't the only time that administrators are in the classroom," said Jayne Gibson, the district's executive director of curriculum and instruction. "We have an open door policy. It's not unusual for a (instructional) coach or principal to walk through the classroom. There is a lot of tracking, of coaching, providing support and getting a feel of what's going on in the classroom."

Rochester officials also borrowed heavily from the district's experiences being part of a nationwide study that sought to measure the efficacy of teacher evaluation on student achievement. Six Rochester schools — including Folwell, Bishop, Churchill-Hoover, Riverside Central and Bamber Valley elementary schools and Willow Creek Middle School — served as pilot schools where teachers were evaluated on a research-based tool called the Classroom Assessment Scoring System.

That tool will now be used in formal evaluations of teachers conducted by school administrators. Principals will also be trained and certified in how to use the tool, said Rochester Assistant Superintendent Brenda Lewis.


"The tool gives teachers really concrete feedback in a wide variety of areas, and we also train our teachers in exactly what that tool measures," Lewis said. "It's a much more robust process that we're going in."

In addition to the new role assigned to student growth and test scores, teachers will also be measured on how well they engage students in the new evaluation. Typically, that has involved principals sitting in the back of classroom observing how students are responding to a teacher's instruction. But some districts, Livingston said, are also considering the use of student perception surveys. Rochester is also looking at designing surveys for the same purpose.

"If you visited a classroom, you can see whether students are visually on task. They don't necessarily see what's happening inside their head," Livingston said. "Are they cognitively engaged? Are they even effectively engaged? So that's one potential advantage of using student perception surveys."

The new evaluation scheme won the backing of Rochester teachers by a large margin. Of the district's 1,291 teachers, 990 teachers decided to vote on the new scheme, and of those, 976 voted in favor of it, or more than 98 percent. Only 14 voted no.

Lewis said she is proud of the plan that the district has put forward. But there also will be bumps along the way, as happens with any new roll-out, and "where a tweak needs to be made, we're going to make that tweak."

"Really the focus is on continuing that growth model and reinforcing what (teachers are) doing well," she said.

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