December 2013



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Educators at pilot schools finding value in new teacher evaluation system

This story is the third in a three-part series on the continuing development of South Dakota’s model teacher effectiveness system.

Twenty-four South Dakota public school districts of all sizes are participating in this year’s pilot of the new state model for teacher effectiveness. Some districts are fully implementing the system, while others are scale-up sites experimenting with partial implementation.

The model includes a focus on professional practices, as well as a focus on student growth, using student learning objectives, or SLOs.

This month, we talked with educators at some of these pilot sites to see how things are going.

More meaningful evaluation

Some teachers at pilot schools have expressed a feeling that all of the pieces are coming together: new standards, the Danielson framework and, now, evaluation.

For example, using student learning objectives in teacher evaluations is new, but creating them is not new to teachers.

“Teachers have been doing that [making goals in the classroom] anyway. It’s making more sense now. It’s kind of tying everything together,” says Jaye Svarstad, a fifth grade teacher at Horace Mann Elementary in Rapid City.

Svarstad likes that the model system brings the principal into her classroom more often and that her evaluation will depend on more than one observation. She says now, if the principal sees her having a tough day in the classroom, the two of them have time to discuss things she could do differently.

“I’m continually bettering myself. With a one-time evaluation, they did it, walked away and that was the last you saw of it,” she says. “Now, there’s more time for self-reflection.”

Teachers take ownership

Initially, Svarstad was concerned about how the student growth rating would be determined, but after getting familiar with the model system, she feels that she has ownership in the process.

“I set the goal myself, I determine what’s rigorous, what works in my room. I see that yes, I can do this. Even if I don’t meet the goal, I’ve done the best I can and there’s been some growth,” she says.

Scott Phares is the principal of Horace Mann and he is hearing positive reactions from other teachers too: “They like the specific feedback. They like data that is useful. So if the SLO is written around something that they feel is valuable, they like that.”

Training and support

LeeAnn Haisch, principal of the Alcester-Hudson Middle and High Schools, says scheduling staff training early aided implementation. Teachers in pilot districts began receiving training in the summer.

Haisch says that training helped dispel worries: “After the summer training, they [teachers] said, ‘Ah, I get it now.’”

Gary Leighton is the superintendent and high school principal in the Florence School District. Leighton appreciates the training because it presented networking opportunities with colleagues: “Now we’ll have people to call and touch base with if we have issues come up.”

The Department of Education will offer regional training on student learning objectives for administrators in spring 2014. Over the summer and throughout the 2014-15 school year, trainings will be offered to teachers as well.

Click here for training handouts, webinars and more from the pilot project.

Contact Carla Leingang at the South Dakota Department of Education, (605) 773-4638, with any questions.

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