With the apparent consent of the Malloy administration and in the face of concerns by teachers and the school systems that employ them, the state panel responsible for creating a new grading system for teachers is recommending a slower rollout of its plan.
The Performance Evaluation Advisory Council determined Monday that the collective anxiety among educators surrounding the costs and the tight timetable of the evaluation program was reason enough to allow each district to introduce the system next year on a limited basis.
Those pilot projects, however, must include evaluations linked to student performance for at least one-third of each district’s teachers.
“The model itself is sound. There is no substitute for trying it,” Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor told the panel. “This is a bridge year… We are ramping up to full statewide implementation in 2014-15.”
The endorsement of the delay by Pryor signals agreement from the Malloy administration, which sought the new system as part of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s broader education reforms last year.
The built-in flexibility was applauded by union officials. They have been hearing feedback from teachers that they are unclear on what they will be evaluated on.
“The state department has gone a long way to help the districts implement this at a pace that is comfortable, and I applaud you for that,” said Melodie Peters, president of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, a teachers’ union. She said without such flexibility, “It’s a dog chasing its tail.”
A survey conducted by the Connecticut Education Association of 252 teachers on Feb. 1 found that many teachers were still not familiar with key components of the evaluations, even after training.
This phase-in recommendation, which awaits approval from the State Board of Education, follows a call from municipal leaders and legislators that the rollout be pushed back. State legislators have proposed more than a dozen bills providing for such a delay.
The PEAC — made up of of union leaders, school board officials and superintendents — has rejected the legislature’s effort to influence in the rollout of the evaluations.
This new evaluation system was as the center of the governor’s education reform initiative 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, announced and unannounced classroom observations, and possibly surveys and other measures.
Where’s the money going to come from?
Officials at the State Department of Education promised state support for the new evaluations by providing training, a data system to compile and organize them, and development of a sample survey for districts to use to get feedback from students and parents.
Pryor said the administration recognizes more funding will be necessary to complete a statewide rollout.
“In most instances the idea would be to mitigate the costs, not necessarily be the total funding,” Pryor said, adding, that “I think we have every reason to believe” the evaluations “would be supported at a significant level.”
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 without follow-up support would have limited its usefulness.
Included in the phase-in option for districts is the requirement that districts create a committee to decide what path to take when implementing the evaluations.
Those committees will consist of a school system’s superintendent and local union leaders. If no decision can be agreed upon and forwarded to the school board for adoption, the decision will be up to the local board.
However, Pryor said, for those districts that aren’t able to reach agreement between their local unions, superintendents and school board, their request for a waiver from the full rollout could be denied.
“We would not look favorably toward that,” said Pryor.
State law requires that these evaluation begin influencing tenure and dismissal decisions beginning in the 2014-15 school year. For districts that opt not to do a full-scale rollout, the 2014-15 school year will be the first year some teachers are evaluated under this new system.
The panel did not address that issue.
“We haven’t reached that question yet. Since we just came to consensus on rollout flexibility, it’s too soon to draw conclusions on that point,” Pryor said.
Follow Jacqueline Rabe Thomas on Twitter @jacquelinerabe