Nearly 5,000 teachers and hundreds of principals from 16 school districts will begin being graded this coming school year based largely on student performance.
"This is an important, a very important step towards getting to a [statewide] evaluation process down the road that we all seek," Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told reporters at the state Capitol complex Monday.
Teachers and principals will likely be evaluated on a four-tier scale. Their grade will come from a mix of teacher observations, standardized tests and student, parent and peer surveys. The new education reform law, which was signed last month, for the first time links teacher tenure decisions to evaluations and allows teachers to be fired if rated "ineffective."
While 10 percent of the state's teachers will be included in this pilot during the 2012-13 school year, every district will need to implement the state model the following year.
"The work of pilot districts will inform our process and offer lessons learned for our statewide rollout next year," Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said. The University of Connecticut's education college will provide a report on these evaluations by October 2013.
Superintendents and school boards from 42 districts applied to be included in the pilot evaluation process. Teacher unions in those districts did not need to sign off because evaluations are not part of the collective bargaining process.
"I am pleasantly surprised how many districts applied. We heard nobody is going to apply," said Joe Cirasuolo, referring to the controversy that has surrounded these evaluations during a meeting last week. Criticism had focused on linking the evaluations to student test scores and having tenure and dismissal decisions tied to them.
While happy about the diversity in size and location of the districts selected, the executive director of the state's largest teachers' union has concerns with the list. Mary Loftus Levine specifically takes issue with the inclusion of Bridgeport's 36 schools.
"For every reason in the world we shouldn't be doing this there," she told the commissioner during a meeting last week, alluding to the "instability" in the city because the state Supreme Court in February invalidated a state-appointed school board in Bridgeport, and the city has an interim superintendent. "It's like a wild card... I wouldn't spend a lot of money in a place that's completely unstable."
The state budget has appropriated $2.5 million for the pilot program. Pryor said that money will be used to train every teacher and principal in the 112 schools involved. The budget also provides $5 million for statewide teacher improvement and recruiting. Pryor said some of that will likely be used to provide support for teachers determined to need improvement. He said he will be seeking more money from the legislature next year for the statewide rollout of the state model.
Members of the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council, which has been working to finish the evaluation guidelines by July 1, also expressed some concern that none of the state's wealthiest districts applied to pilot.
"There was some concern about that," said Pryor. "I am not overly concerned."
There are some districts that this state model will never impact, said Pryor, noting that "a small number" of school systems are doing a superior job with their independent evaluation system and will get a waiver.
"We don't believe we have the monopoly on good ideas regarding evaluation," Pryor said. "The reality is most districts will need to adopt the guidelines."
Malloy added, "without a fair and reliable evaluation system, teachers and administrators are left with no clear indicators of where they are succeeding and where they should improve. Learning everything we can from this pilot is a huge part of getting us to that goal."