Grading Teachers Changed

Payson Unified School District Office - South entrance

Payson Unified School District Office - South entrance |

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Ever walk into a classroom full of excited, engaged, can’t wait to learn students and wish your child could be there? That’s the feeling the Payson Unified School District (PUSD) hopes to create in every classroom.

That’s why the district has adopted a novelette of teacher and principal evaluation forms created by the Yavapai school district. Over the course of the next year, the district will tweak the forms to create a unique evaluation. In the meantime, Superintendent Ron Hitchcock wants to use proven systems.

“The PUSD governing board approved the use of the Yavapai model for measuring educator effectiveness which is based on the framework for Teaching by the Danielson Group,” said Brenda Case, director of student achievement.

“New state laws required the overhaul and all certified staff and administrators have already attended an in-service training session,” she said.

At that session, PUSD brought in a speaker to discuss the new law and the Danielson Group’s philosophy behind the Yavapai model, said Case.

The Danielson Group consults with districts to create evaluation and training tools for teachers. Charlotte Danielson started her career as a teacher, then decided to answer the question, “What makes great teaching?”

Many school districts have successfully adopted the system, said Case. She said the system matches the federal TASC standards, which she said are “based on performance and evaluated on a rubric which supports validity and reliability.”

Danielson quoted Lee Shulman’s book “The Wisdom of Practice.”

“After 30 years of doing such work, I have concluded that classroom teaching ... is perhaps the most complex, most challenging, and most demanding, subtle, nuanced and frightening activity that our species has ever invented ... The only time a physician could possibly encounter a situation of comparable complexity would be in the emergency room of a hospital during or after a disaster.”

During a speech in 2011, Danielson said changes coming down the pike alarm teachers, as the stakes have gotten so high, with their careers on the line. For example, the Arizona Legislature has effectively eliminated tenure and made it possible to fire a teacher who gets just one poor evaluation.

Evaluations depend on making sure administration and teachers are on the same page, said Danielson.

She told the story of when she was a young new teacher with her fifth-grade class teaching buoyancy and capacity. She gave groups of students a pan full of water and a hunk of clay. She asked them to see if the clay floated in the water. Of course, with the clay in a ball, it immediately sunk. However, through experimentation they learned the clay would float — if they turned it into a canoe.

Next, they had to design a clay boat that could carry a cargo of paper clips. Just as they realized the key lay in making the walls of the canoe paper thin, Danielson’s principal made an unannounced visit to evaluate her teaching.

He took one look, called her over and whispered in her ear, “I’ll come back when you’re teaching.”

She was perplexed, because she thought she was teaching. In fact, she and her principal never agreed on what constituted good teaching, nor did the district have a definition. So she studied what successful teachers do and came up with a list of tasks such as in-depth planning and preparation, an engaging classroom environment, clear instruction and maintaining adequate professional responsibilities.

Those four areas lie at the center of the evaluation system Payson has embraced. “The goal for both teacher and principal evaluations is to enhance performance so that students receive a higher quality education,” said Case.

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