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Virginia Journal of Education


What YOU Need to Know

A Guide to Virginia’s New Teacher Evaluation System


By Sandra Barnstead

You know that a new system of evaluating your teaching performance is now in place. In some cases, that may be about all you know, however, because some school divisions have been less informative than others.
 
So, because it’s critically important that teachers understand exactly how they’ll be evaluated, what follows is an overview of state requirements, along with some helpful hints for navigating the process.
 
All this got started when, as part of getting a federal government waiver from some of the requirements of No Child Left Behind, Virginia agreed to develop and adopt local evaluation and support systems for teachers and principals. Out of that agreement came the “Guidelines for Uniform Performance Standards and Evaluation Criteria for Teachers,” developed by the Virginia Department of Education and approved by the Virginia Board of Education. Some school divisions began using them for the 2012-13 school year.

The guidelines use seven standards, adding two to the five used previously:
• Professional knowledge
• Instructional planning
• Instructional delivery
• Assessment of and for student learning
• Learning environment
• Professionalism
• Student academic progress

While every school division has some flexibility on how exactly to incorporate those standards, the state does require that all seven be used, and that the seventh one, student academic progress (the last word being the key here, as we work for the growth and success of our students based on their specific abilities), account for 40 percent of the evaluation. A summative rating based on the seven standards for each teacher at year-end is also required. 

Beyond those three requirements, evaluation models can vary widely among school divisions. While it’s good to have this flexibility, there’s also the potential for some confusion and complications—there are 133 school divisions in the state. In addition, some systems began using the guidelines in 2012 and others not until 2013, making some teachers more experienced in this area than others. 

For each standard, you’ll receive one of four possible ratings: exemplary, proficient, developing/needs improvement, or unacceptable. The guidelines also include a list of suggested performance indicators for each standard, which should not be treated as a definitive checklist, but, rather as examples of tools that could indicate you’re meeting the standard. 
 
The first step for teachers and administrators conducting evaluations is the creation of SMART goals, which will be used to judge your performance on Standard Seven. By VDoE definition, SMART goals are:

Specific: focused, for example, by content area, by learners’ needs.
Measurable: assessed by an appropriate instrument/measure.
Appropriate: within the teacher’s control.
Realistic: feasible for the teacher.
Time-limited: contained within a single school year.
 
While SMART goals are discussed with and approved by an administrator, it’s important to remember that a SMART goal is your goal. These goals are to be created each year, based on specific teaching assignments and students’ needs, which should be drawn from an initial assessment or baseline data for that school year.  This means SMART goals cannot be created before the school year starts or before an appropriate amount of time for initial assessments. You must be very aware of what your students are capable of and not allow yourself to be encouraged to write unrealistic goals. 
 
Administrators may have school-wide goals and initiatives in mind, but this doesn’t mean every teacher in the building should have the same SMART goals. Goals must be individualized, relating directly to your classroom and students. A SMART goal can be written to support a school-wide objective, but only if it’s feasible for you to directly affect meeting that objective.

Depending on the district, one or two SMART goals are required. Remember: if you have one SMART goal, all of Standard 7’s 40 percent will be based on it; if you have two, each goal will most likely represent 20 percent.

Some school divisions may allow you to choose whether to have one or two SMART goals. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. One SMART goal means all your energy and focus can be on that goal. The downside is if the goal turns out to be overly ambitious and you don’t meet it by the end of the year, you could end up with a developing/needs improvement or unacceptable rating for Standard 7. With two SMART goals, if one is not achieved, you may still have a chance for a proficient rating if you’ve met the other goal. 

When creating your SMART goals, be sure to think about their appropriateness for your students, how you’ll collect progress results, and whether your goal is measuring progress or achievement. Remember that student progress is the focal point. Knowing how you’ll collect your data and achieve your goal will relieve stress later in the school year! 
 
For a very small minority of Virginia teachers, Student Growth Percentile data may be available from VDoE. If such data exists, 20 percent of your Standard 7 evaluation will be based on it, with the other 20 percent coming from an alternative measure. 
 
Once you’ve formulated SMART goals, you can begin documenting your progress toward meeting them, as well as the objectives of the other six standards. Use multiple measures and data sources: Some observations and specific data are required by the state but other items, such as student surveys, journal entries, and self-evaluations are also useful. Most school divisions will likely require observations, a summary of student survey responses, and teacher self-reflection. Any completed surveys are your property and you only have to share the summary of responses, not the actual surveys, with your administrators. While documentation on each standard may not always be required, it’s best practice to do so anyway. Documentation apart from administrator notes and observations is necessary to help avoid a one-sided and unfair judgment at the end of the school year. You should also be careful to hang onto any documents you receive from administrators so you can have a personal record of the entire evaluation process for that year.
 
Documenting student progress throughout the year is vital. Consistent and frequent assessment of student progress allows you to not only determine if your SMART goals need revision but, more importantly, whether you’re meeting your students’ needs. At year-end, your documentation should be organized in a way that easily demonstrates student success. If you provide solid evidence you’ve met or surpassed your SMART goals, there’s no reason you shouldn’t get at least a proficient, if not exemplary, rating for Standard 7. The end of the year is not the time for an administrator to determine a SMART goal wasn’t rigorous enough and give a developing/needs improvement or unacceptable rating.

Documentation for the first six standards can include written plans, example activities, professional development certificates, example assessments, student work, pictures and written reflections. Some school divisions may require a specific amount of documentation for each standard while others may not require any. It’s probably best for you to have some evidence for each standard for your own records, just in case.

The last step before year-end is a mid-year review and summative evaluation, which is required by March 1 of each school year. At this point, goals can be reassessed and revised if needed. 

A final summative evaluation should be completed by April 1 for probationary teachers and by the end of the school year for teachers who’ve earned continuing contracts. In this evaluation, you’ll get a rating in each of the performance standards as well as an overall rating. State guidelines stress that a proficient rating is the expectation for teachers, with exemplary reserved for teachers who fulfill expectations at the proficient level and consistently go beyond.
 
Using comments made about you by others, such as colleagues and students, is not an acceptable form of evaluation documentation for an administrator. Insist that no “hearsay” be a part of your evaluation process, and that only information from direct observations and conversations be included.

Probationary teachers are evaluated every year; teachers with continuing contract status may be formally evaluated every three years. However, this depends on your local district, as some may require all teachers to be evaluated annually. 
 
The state’s guidelines also give school divisions leeway to make a couple stipulations on overall exemplary ratings, including denying you one if any of your performance standards are rated less than proficient, or if you’re a teacher with at least five years experience and you didn’t get an exemplary rating on Standard 7. School divisions must make such decisions before implementing the new evaluation system, however.
 
Administrators have two additional tools at their disposal during the school year for your evaluation:

• Support dialogue. This is a discussion that happens when either you or your evaluator feel that a little extra support is needed. It’s done at the building level and is meant as a step to offer help before an improvement plan is put into place.

• Performance improvement plan. This is a formal process that may begin at any point during the school year if your evaluator feels your performance isn’t meeting established expectations. Before this happens, you must receive written notice, including the concerns to be addressed. Language in the state guidelines calls for support in the form of “targeted supervision and additional resources.” If you receive notice about such a plan for you, or even think it’s a possibility, immediately contact your local Uniserv Director. He or she is part of your support system as a VEA member and will know local policies, questions to ask, and the appropriate things to say.   

At each stage in the evaluation process, it’s important for you to advocate for yourself and your goals. Understanding how the process works can prepare you for smoother sailing and prevent unpleasant surprises. Because the state allows school divisions some flexibility in their evaluation process, invest some time in reviewing local policy. Your local President or Uniserv Director are both good resources for answering specific questions, as is VEA’s Office of Teaching & Learning.
 
The Association is developing workshops on teacher evaluation, which will guide you through writing appropriate SMART goals, documenting progress throughout the year, and navigating the evaluation process from beginning to end. Feel free to contact VEA’s Office of Teaching & Learning at (800) 552-9554 or SBarnstead@veanea.org

Barnstead is a Teaching & Learning Specialist at the VEA and a former middle and high school math teacher in Spotsylvania County. She’s also a doctoral degree candidate at George Mason University.

 

 


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