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New Canaan unconcerned about teacher evaluation delay

Published 1:19 pm, Wednesday, February 12, 2014
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Connecticut teachers will not be judged this year or next based on scores their students receive from a state standardized test based on the new Common Core State Curriculum.

At the urging of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the group that developed the controversial teacher evaluation system passed revised guidelines Jan. 29 that will give all districts through March to seek a waiver through the 2014-15 school year.

"It is apparent we are trying to do a lot of things at once," Malloy told members of the Performance Evaluation Advisory Committee. "Teachers are stressed. We have to recognize that."

In New Canaan, however, the changes are not expected to make a big impact, school officials said.

"Essentially, there will be no substantial difference because we were already at the place where the state landed with the recent changes," Superintendent of Schools Mary Kolek said.

The New Canaan school district has its own system, known as Teacher Evaluation Professional Learning. Because of the similarities of this system with the state's, the New Canaan schools are under a waiver.

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Jill Correnty said that, unlike the state, the district does not use percentages when evaluating teachers.

Under the TEPL system, teachers are graded on a 1- to 4-point rubric in four categories: student growth, as measured by students' work and test scores; educator observation of practice, where administrators sit in on classes; learning community growth, which is based on an annual examination of survey data across stakeholders (parents, staff, etc.); and whole school student learning, which also examines schoolwide student performance data.

Kolek said judging teachers solely on students' performance is "masking the complexity of what the profession is."

The plan to give all districts the ability to keep state test scores out of the teacher evaluation formula is expected to gain needed approval from the state Board of Education. The state must also amend its waiver of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which details the state's teacher evaluation process.

In addition, the committee gave new flexibility to formally observe teachers deemed proficient or exemplary once every three years instead of three times a year.

The governor also said it is more important to get it right than to do it fast.

"Since the beginning of the school year, we have heard from teachers and administrators voicing their concerns that too much change is hitting their classrooms at once," he said. "This confluence of changes jeopardizes the success of our teachers, and thus our students."

At the state Legislative Office Building, Republican lawmakers praised the delay, but said it is not good enough.

State Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, surrounded by other Republicans, asked for public hearings on the curriculum that many districts are struggling to implement.

"There clearly is widespread concern," she said.

The Common Core standards, adopted by most states, call for students to learn subjects at greater depths and in a different order than what many classrooms are accustomed. It comes with a new test that is to be administered via a computer not pencil and paper. The Connecticut Board of Education adopted the standards in 2010.

Lawmakers in this gubernatorial election year have been hearing from teachers all over the state who are concerned that between a new evaluation system, curriculum and tests, too much is being asked of them at once. Many also oppose an evaluation system that links job performance -- even fractionally -- to a test.

In New Canaan, however, teachers were more prepared, according to Correnty, because the district has been working on a similar system for several years.

"Being in the forefront has been very helpful to us," Correnty said.

State Sen. John McKinney, R-Fairfield, who is seeking the gubernatorial nomination, said granting municipalities increased flexibility is long overdue. He called the implementation thus far, a failure.

State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, a ranking member of the Education Committee who also represents New Canaan, didn't go that far but did say, "Too much at once is never a good idea."

Mark Waxenberg, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, said the evaluation system as it was not only frustrated teachers, but could force some of them to play it safe and not take risks that could lead to better student learning.

Parents and educators who are still confused about the new Common Core curriculum now can go to one website to learn more about it. CTcorestandards.org, which was launched by the state earlier this month, contains a number of materials that explain the new system.

Staff writers Eileen FitzGerald and Paul Schott contributed to this report.

noliveira@bcnnew.com, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson