Starting this fall, Fairfax County teachers will be evaluated under a new system that weighs student academic progress as 40 percent of their overall ratings.
The shift comes as part of new Virginia Department standards and evaluation criteria for teacher performance localities must approve by July 1 of this year.
For several months, the 40 percent was only a recommendation, said Fairfax Education Association President Michael Hairston, who sat on the state workgroup that addressed the issue.
But a June 1 press release about the state’s second attempt at a waiver from federal No Child Left Behind requirements indicated to Fairfax officials that amount was mandatory.
“There’s a lot of angst. There’s a lot of concern from teachers,” Hairston said.
The new system will rate teachers on student academic progress and six other performance categories, including professional knowledge, instructional planning, instructional delivery, assessment of and for learning, learning environment and professionalism.
For each of them, teachers will be rated “highly effective,” “effective,” “developing/needs improvement,” or ineffective. Eventually, those terms will get a numerical value — from 4 to 1, for example, from best to worst — to calculate an overall score.
Several board members expressed concern about the new weighting, particularly for teachers who may be working with more diverse or low-achieving populations.
“We have a genuine fear out there we have to address or we will have a best teacher flight from our neediest [areas] to schools where the population is … less diverse and difficult,” Dan Storck (Mt. Vernon) said.
Fairfax County Federation of Teachers President Steve Greenburg said he was “disgusted” the U.S. Department Of Education, which rejected the state’s first application, would leverage 40 percent as part of a waiver agreement.
Greenburg, a member of a teacher evaluation task force appointed last fall to redesign Fairfax County’s evaluation process, said the committee worked quickly and transparently, despite a tight timeline from VDOE, but ultimately its hands were tied to a percentage to which it didn’t necessarily agree.
Tying student performance to teacher evaluation is something districts have wrestled with locally and nationally for years, spurred largely by “dropout factories,” which is the 10 percent of high schools that account for half of students nationwide who drop out, Deputy Superintendent Richard Moniuszko said.
While much of Virginia doesn’t see rates that high, it and most other states have been pressured to give more weight to how well students are performing.
Currently, teachers are currently evaluated on 22 "indicators," all of which are given equal weight, Greenburg said.
Moniuszko said teachers won’t be limited to SOL scores when setting student progress expectations each year. Instead, they’ll be trained to write “SMART (Strategic and Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Result-oriented and Time-bound) goals with their evaluators to set “reasonable expectations” for themselves and their students, he said.
An elementary school teacher could aim for all students to read on or above grade level by the end of the school year, for instance; an 11th-grade English teacher could aim to have 75 percent of students score four points or better on their expository or persuasive writing samples.
If a teacher fails to reach their goal on student academic performance, it won’t necessarily translate to a “needs improvement” for that category, Moniuszko said.
“This is not, you either get the 40 percent or you fail. We've set up this system [to allow flexibility,” he said, noting goals would be revisited frequently throughout the year.
All 15,000 employees affected by the changes will go through an orientation about the new system, said Phyllis Pajardo, assistant superintendent for human resources. The 6,000 teachers typically evaluated each year — including newer professionals evaluated annually for their first three years, veteran teachers up for contract renewal and those with part-time and one-year contracts — will be given more specific training, she said.
Full implementation will likely cost the system $600,000, Moniuszko said. The system will also have to select an implementation team of two teachers and two principals to carry out the changes. Members will be identified in early July.
“It’s essential we try to communicate this is not something that is done to you, it is something you are a part of,” Mary Kay Downes, a member of the task force and past president of the Association of Fairfax Professional Educators.