New Haven Professional Development Wins Acclaim

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New Haven, Conn., put school collaboration to good use again this spring, when teachers and the city's public schools finalized a new professional development and evaluation system that moves beyond traditional "drive-by" ratings for teachers without falling into the trap of making test scores the be-all and end-all of professional evaluation.

Announced April 26, the new evaluation and development system has already garnered national acclaim and is a product of the landmark contract negotiated last October by the New Haven Federation of Teachers and the district—a deal approved by a landslide 855-42 vote. (See earlier story.) That contract called for a new approach to teacher professionalism and growth, and the new system announced in April places the emphasis on tailored, multiple measures of professional performance, along with real opportunities and supports for both teacher recognition and improvement.

"The key here is that this is not just a teacher evaluation system, it's a teacher evaluation and development plan," says NHFT president David Cicarella.

Under the new system, individual teachers and their evaluators will meet each fall to set personal professional goals. These annual goals draw from three areas: classroom practice, professional values such as the ability to work collaboratively, and student progress. Every element in the evaluation is mutually agreed upon, and when it comes to indicators of student progress, teachers and evaluators have the option of gauging effectiveness using teacher-designed tests as well as district and state assessments.

The new system ranks teachers on a 1-5 scale: Those receiving a score of 5 in all three components will be considered for teacher leadership positions, while those receiving a score of 2 or below will be supported with a tailored improvement plan and help to reach higher levels. Teachers who rank at the bottom of the scale and fail to improve after receiving intensive support will be considered for dismissal; but such actions must be confirmed by a peer evaluator, and nothing in the new system denies teachers their rights under state law to tenure and fair dismissal, Cicarella stresses. "Teachers have to have confidence in the system, and the peer-evaluator review is a critical part of that."

Already, the new approach is receiving widespread attention and acclaim as an example of how education's toughest challenges can be tackled when parties work as true, good-faith partners.

"The city of New Haven and the American Federation of Teachers deserve high praise for the new teacher training and evaluation system they unveiled," the New York Times editorial board wrote on May 3."This close collaboration between the union and school administration is an essential part of the effort to build a great corps of teachers," the New Haven Register stressed in a May 2 editorial. [Mike Rose, Joan Devlin, the New Haven Federation of Teachers]

May 4, 2010