Pressure mounts to delay teacher evaluations

As the deadline approaches for districts to begin evaluating every teacher and principal using new state standards, municipal leaders are asking state lawmakers to delay implementation.

But Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said they have no intention of slowing down a statewide rollout for the upcoming school year.

Told that municipal leaders were expressing concerns about the timeline and costs for implementation of the evaluation system at their annual Council of Small Town's conference this week, Malloy was not willing to budge.

Malloy ed reform

Gov. Malloy signs into law an education reform law in May 2012. Eight months later, he is against delaying implementation.

"Really? Really? They are going to argue about whether we should evaluate the effectiveness of people? Really?... That's an argument I'm more than happy to have," Malloy told reporters after the event.

A new evaluation system was at the center of the governor's education reform initiatives that became law after a contentious debate last year. Those new requirements ensure the state's 50,000 teachers will be graded every year based on the results of their students' standardized tests, unannounced classroom observations, and possibly surveys and other measures.

The new law required that every district begin evaluating their teachers starting this school year. And when the new evaluation standards were adopted last year by the State Board of Education, the plan was to require every district to implement them by the 2013-14 school year or seek a waiver for a locally crafted evaluation system.

The results of these evaluations will influence tenure and dismissal decisions beginning in the 2014-15 school year.

Pryor said in order to ensure a smooth rollout statewide, he plans to reconvene the panel that crafted the new requirements next month.

"We are working with these stakeholders to identify ways that year one statewide implementation can be less burdensome than it might otherwise be and can create less anxiety and more confidence," Pryor said, adding he is considering the "possibility of providing greater flexibility at the local district level."

Pryor indicated that details of such flexibility could include phasing in or implementing the evaluations in segments, and will rely on the Performace Evaluation Advisory Committee for a plan to proceed.

Rep. Andy Fleischmann, the chairman of the legislature's Education Committee, said he believes the new evaluations need to be phased in.


"We need a sensible rollout strategy," he said, adding that several local officials have already contacted him about their concerns. "Surely the commissioner is aware that if he were to expect a full rollout for all districts in 2013-14 he would have a problem."

Wait a year?

These new evaluations began this school year in 16 pilot districts -- which collectively have 5,000 teachers. Some local officials and legislators are asking how districts can be expected to carry out this model evaluation when the assessment of what worked and didn't has not been completed.

"There was no time to do a review of the pilot," said Rep. Pam Sawyer, R-Bolton, a member of the Education Committee. "If we don't delay then everyone will be at square one without solid footing... It's time we get something right."

Sawyer has proposed a bill that would delay the statewide rollout while a task force examines the success, or failures, of the pilot.

The cost of evaluating teachers

Bethany volunteered to be a pilot district to use the new evaluation for its 50 teachers.

First selectwoman Derrylyn Gorski regrets stepping up.

"What you pass may look innocent enough," she told legislative leaders at a conference in Cromwell Wednesday. "But it is adding 43 workdays to administrators who are already very busy... This is such a burden to the small towns."

The room full of small town leaders acknowledged with their applause.

Paul Formica, East Lyme's first selectman, told legislators the new evaluations will cost his district $133,000 a year.

Nearly $2.5 million was provided for the state department to help develop the tools necessary to rollout the evaluations in the pilot districts. That funding went to cover training, a data system to compile and organize the evaluations, and development for a sample survey for districts to use to get feedback from students and parents.

But leaders recognize more funding will be necessary to complete the statewide rollout.

Included in a draft budget prepared by the Department of Education in September was a recommendation that the state provide an additional $2 million to build a database that can accommodate the statewide rollout and $15 million a year to provide professional development for those teachers who are found to need improvement.

Many education officials have said that to have the ratings system, but no follow-up support, the evaluations would have all been done in vain.

"Evaluation and support: That is the spirit and intent of all this... That is our big task," Pryor said when the new evaluation guidelines were adopted last June.

And despite the state's looming $1 billion deficit for the upcoming fiscal year, Pryor said his support for funding for the evaluations has not wavered.

Speaker of the House J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, also acknowledged the state is going to need to step up and help fund this initiative.

"That was the premise for it, that we were not going to impose this mandate on towns and cities without providing funding to do it," he said.

Another option the House Republican minority leader offered was to back off on this evaluation requirement for districts that are succeeding in educating their students.

"Let's relieve them of this mandate," Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., of Norwalk, said. He said the number one complaint he hears from education leaders is, "Please leave us alone."

But Sharkey said he would not support backing off a universal evaluation requirement.

He said just because a school may have overall success, "That doesn't mean that every teacher in the district is doing a good job. I think everyone is in agreement that those underperforming teachers need to be weeded out, either retrained or redirected to another profession...There are still bad apples in good school districts."

Follow Jacqueline Rabe Thomas on Twitter @jacquelinerabe