Scarsdale’s plan for maintaining their independence in teacher evaluation and assessment while meeting state requirements was the highlight of the Scarsdale Board of Education meeting held on the evening of Tuesday, October 9, at the Edgewood School. Prior to the BOE meeting, the Board visited with Edgewood administrators, and then held a meeting with parents and other Edgewood constituents where they were given the opportunity to share their accomplishments and ask questions of the Board. All schools are given the same opportunity for individual meetings with the Board, and the next such meeting will be held on October 22 at Fox Meadow School.
At the board meeting, Dr. Michael McGill, Superintendent of Scarsdale Schools, Dr. Joan Weber, Assistant Superintendent for Personnel and Administrative Services, and Ms. Lynne Shain, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, presented their Education Report on “State Regulations and the Scarsdale Professional Performance Evaluation Plan.” McGill opened his statements by underscoring that he is not averse to metrics and standardized tests when used in a “responsible, meaningful and valid way,” emphasizing that this qualification was key.
McGill described the Scarsdale evaluation program as “part of a broad plan for hiring and developing the best available professional talent.” Based on the recommendations of Charlotte Danielson, an experienced consultant hired by the district in the past, teachers are evaluated in four domains:
- Planning and preparation
- Classroom environment
- Teaching (the act of instruction)
Teachers are then rated by their supervisors in one of four categories: unsatisfactory, basic, proficient or distinguished. Evidence to make these ratings is currently gathered through classroom observation and other measurements, including standardized test results.
According to Dr. McGill, Scarsdale’s approach is one of continuous improvement. “No matter how good we are,” he said, “we can always improve. Our goal is to pick you up from where you are and make you better.”
In contrast to the Scarsdale plan, the state plan, while employing the same four domain format recommended by Danielson, rates teachers on a 100 point plan, and with the following subcategories:
- State test scores represent 20 points;
- Scores on locally selected measure comprise 20 points;
- Class observation comprises 31 points;
- Structured reviews of lesson plans, student projects and other “teacher artifacts” - a teacher’s portfolio - are worth the remaining 29 points.
McGill said that he felt the numerical rating would misidentify teachers as more and less effective, and that the mechanics would be cumbersome to implement, diverting attention from other priorities. “The rigidity of the rating scheme prevents supervisors from addressing serious problems,” he said. He also felt that the rating process would encourage competition and discourage collaboration currently fostered among Scarsdale faculty. Currently, teachers are rated relative to external standards of excellence, not in relation to each other.
Dr. Weber and Ms. Shain went on to explain how Scarsdale intended to comply with the state regulations, as laid out in their initial plan submitted to the state in July. For local measurements, the decision was made to use the state test results, giving these tests an overall weight of 40 points. Structured reviews of teacher portfolios, have been required in Scarsdale for a while, and will continue to be so, but teachers will have the option of receiving points based on the evaluation of their portfolios, or on self-directed growth, including activities such as lesson study, peer coaching, research, etc.
According to Weber, the biggest change will be in classroom observation of tenured teachers. Currently, all tenured teachers receive a limited review, and one-third of faculty undergoes intensive review. In order to accommodate the state requirements, all tenured faculty members will be observed twice annually and will receive short, written feedback. Probationary teachers will not see this change; they will continue to be observed four times annually, with conferences and goal-setting meetings with their evaluators as well as written assessments from their supervisors.
In McGill’s view, the critical weakness in the state’s system of evaluation as its assumption that classroom problems are due to low test scores or things observable in classroom visits. However, these are not the issues we face, he said. “Our issues stem from poor human judgment, ineffective human interaction, and bad personal relationships,” said McGill. “These don’t show up in the state formula. If state scores conflict with our professional judgment,” he went on to say, “we will go with the judgment of our professional staff.”
The superintendent closed by reinforcing the district’s willingness to risk lower state test scores rather than sacrifice the mission of providing a deep, rich education to Scarsdale’s students. He reminded the board that tests with high stakes narrow and flatten curriculum and lead to strategic efforts to raise scores through test preparation, manipulation and cheating. Thus, the administration plans to follow an overall strategy of complying with state law and regulations while favoring human judgment over numerical formulas, continuing a directed parent-teacher dialogue about teacher quality and remediation, and focusing on quality education. Said Dr. McGill, “Teach a great course, scores will be what they will be.”
Tracy Jaffe is a graduate of Brown University and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business. A past president of Heathcote’s PTA and Scarsdale PT Council, Tracy has 3 children in the Scarsdale school system, and currently sits on the boards of Scarsdale/Edgemont Family Counseling Services and the League of Women Voters.