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Rochester schools to start new process for evaluating teachers

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Julie Ruzek, left, and Carrie Ekert are peer observers evaluating teachers in the Rochester school district.
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Next year, Rochester Public Schools will enter an era of accountability when the district begins a new process for evaluating teachers.

One of the biggest changes: all of Rochester's nearly 1,200 teachers will undergo formal annual evaluations starting in 2014. Under the current system, only probationary teachers — those with three years or less of teaching experience — receive annual performance evaluations while tenured teachers go through the evaluation cycle once every three years.

The catalyst for these changes is a state law passed two years ago, requiring Minnesota school districts to develop their own teacher evaluation system or adopt a default model offered by the state.

The Rochester school district has opted to develop its own. A working group of teachers and administrators last year began working on a proposal that among its elements, gives new prominence to trained "peer observers," fellow faculty who review and offer feedback on teacher performance.

The current system only has principals evaluating teachers. But under the evolving proposal, certified observers would conduct two of the observations of tenured teachers during the year and the principal the final one. Probationary teachers would continue to be observed and evaluated by building principals.

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Another new element is that for the first time, a portion of the evaluation will consist of standardized test scores, although the exact details have yet to be worked out. That is also a requirement of the state law.

The proposal remains a work in progress, officials say. While an outline for a new evaluation scheme was presented to the Rochester Education Association last spring, the district's teachers union, nothing has been accepted yet nor has the system been completely defined.

But education leaders say the mandated changes will be good for Rochester and other Minnesota districts.

"It's good for accountability and support," said Kit Hawkins, president of the Rochester Education Association teachers union and a member of the working group. "Studies show that providing teachers with feedback and coaching improves skills."

But it's not the lone activity on the teacher evaluation front. At the same time — and independent of the district's work on a new evaluation system — Rochester schools has played a voluntary role in a nationwide teacher evaluation study that is likely to influence and shape Rochester's new teacher evaluation system. The study's goal: To show whether consistent, rigorous feedback from certified evaluators not only improves teacher performance but boosts student achievement as well.

Rochester is one of eight school districts in five states participating in the study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education and conducted by the American Institutes for Research.

And while the study is separate from the district's still-developing evaluation scheme, Rochester is looking to incorporate elements and lessons from the study into the new plan.

Teacher evaluators create specific feedback

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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