2017-02-02 / Front Page

In Leelanau, teachers above average

As judged by their administrators
By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff

Leelanau teachers continue to get grades above their peers in other counties, based on evaluation results for the 2015-16 school year.

According to recently released information from the Michigan Department of Education, all but two of the 157 teachers evaluated in the county’s four K-12 districts were found to be effective or highly effective.

The number is unchanged from the 2014-15 school year. One teacher is employed in Northport, the other in Suttons Bay.

About three-quarters of the teachers evaluated were determined to be “highly effective” — the best grade available. That percentage is well ahead of the statewide level of 42 percent.

Some 35 county teachers — 23 percent — were deemed to be “effective,” compared to the 56 percent level across the state.

No county teachers were considered ineffective.

Not long ago a tenured teacher had to step far out of line before losing his or her job. However, longevity and tenure no longer dictate who will be retained and who will be left go in a layoff situation.

Instead, teacher evaluations play a major role in such decisions. Hypothetically, a teacher with two year’s experience could unseat a 20-year teacher now that “student growth” is part of the evaluation, school administrators say.

State law mandates that local districts conduct teacher evaluations that rate the work of staff members as highly effective, effective, minimally effective and ineffective. The same state law, which applies to administrators, requires adoption of a research based model for evaluation.

Most schools in the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District have adopted the “Marzano model” for evaluation. It is based on research from Dr. Robert Marzano that identified direct cause-and-effect relationship between teaching practices and student achievement.

“We have to have some way of evaluating teachers and Marzano is a great tool to do it,” Leland Superintendent Jason Stowe said.

Years ago, teachers were evaluated every three years. Now, evaluations happen every year and are tied to student growth as measured with standardized tests such as M-STEP, Michigan’s new statewide examinations, or a test offered by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) that has historically produced results more quickly than state test.

Glen Lake Superintendent Sander Scott was hired after teacher evaluations were completed for the 2015-16 school year. However, he is a big proponent of the evaluation process and plans to take them seriously during the present school year.

“There’s been a ton of research that says the more feedback teachers get, the better they perform,” Scott said. “That’s what needs to happen to move students forward.”

Scott asks that his principals — Kim Wright at the elementary level and Brian Hartigan, secondary — spend 80 percent of their time in classrooms observing while school is in session. His personal goal is to be in the classroom 50 percent of the time classes are in session.

“From the first bell at the beginning of the day from the last, I want them in the classroom to observe teaching and learning,” he said.

At Glen Lake, 55 of the school’s 59 teachers were evaluated as “highly effective.” The remaining four were found to be effective.

“A lot of people think the principal is there for discipline or crowd control,” Scott said. “But the No. 1 thing is to be an instructional leader … To make sure the learning experience is as rich as it can be and happening at the highest level.”

A former administrator in the Traverse City Area Public School district, Scott sets the bar high for himself as well. He requested the Glen Lake Board of Education complete a six month employment review, evaluating his performance since coming into his post in July 1.

His review was positive.

Suttons Bay has the second-largest pool of teachers in the county at 43.

According to the state 30 teachers — 70 percent — were ranked “highly effective.” Another 12 were considered “effective.”

Leland has 35 teachers and all but three were ranked “highly effective.” The remaining three were effective.

Teacher performance appears to be improving in Northport Public School.

None of the 20 teachers working during the 2014-15 school year were considered “highly effective.”

Last school year, three teachers or 15 percent received the top ranking. The bulk of the teaching staff — 16 — were considered “effective.”

Statewide, 42 percent of the 94,164 teachers evaluated were considered “highly effective.” Some 56 percent (52,514) were “effective”; 1,923 “minimally effective” and 400 were “ineffective.”

Evaluations include two classroom observations

Common questions readers may have about teacher evaluations are listed below, with answers provided by two school superintendents in Leelanau County and information from the Michigan Department of Education.

Q: What is the basis of the evaluation?

A: Administrators make a minimum of two classroom observations a year, look at the teacher’s lesson plans and the state benchmark on which the plan is based.

Twenty-five percent of the annual year-end evaluation is based on student growth and assessment data. The ratio will increase to 40 percent beginning with the 2018-19 school year.

Q: What happens after the evaluation?

A: Teachers are provided a document within 30 days listing specific performance goals aimed at helping them improve performance in the next school year.

Q: What happens when a teacher doesn’t make “the grade”?

A: After consulting with the teacher, administrators come up with an individualized development plan — with goals and training — designed to improve their effectiveness. The process may include assigning a teaching mentor. A second evaluation is added mid-year.

Q: How are parents kept in the loop?

A: No notification is required the first time, or in non-consecutive years, that a student has been assigned to an individual teacher who has received two consecutive“ineffective” ratings. Starting in 2018-2019, notification of parents or guardians is required when a student has been assigned for two consecutive years to teachers in the same content area who have been rated as “ineffective” on their most recent evaluations.

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