By ERIN ROLL
The state Department of Education released guidelines last week on how teachers would be evaluated for the 2020-2021 school year amid the pandemic.
Teachers who are still working in the classroom — whether hybrid or full time — will be evaluated through classroom observations, as in years past.
Those teaching remotely will present a portfolio of their work to their supervisors, instead of undergoing a live observation.
But as in a normal year, teachers will still have to determine academic benchmarks that students will need to meet. These benchmarks, which the teachers and their supervisors agree on in advance, are known as Student Growth Objectives (SGOs.)
Representatives from New Jersey’s largest teachers union said that this would be difficult to accomplish during COVID-19 and remote learning.
Tenured teachers and principals must receive at least two observations in a standard year, while nontenured teachers and principals must receive at least three observations. This will continue to apply during COVID-19, according to the DOE guidance.
Because no state student testing was held in the spring, SGOs will carry more weight this year.
SGOs are meant to provide an additional measure of a student’s academic performance, outside of a student’s performance on academic tests. Additionally, SGOs are prepared for all subjects, not just those that are tested in standardized tests.
Examples of SGOs according to the Department of Education include having first-graders all reading at a certain level; sixth-graders understanding concepts of Algebra I; and ninth- and tenth-graders completing a series of writing assessments for a language arts class.
The SGOs are one of the greatest concerns of the New Jersey Education Association, in that it thinks the evaluation system is still too tailored to a business-as-usual school year. NJEA representatives said it also means more paperwork and a too-tight deadline of Oct. 31 to declare what the SGOs for the year will be. And they contend that it may be difficult for teachers to determine how their students are doing, academically or emotionally, if they cannot meet in person.
During a year when efforts are being made to streamline school activities and make the learning process easier for teachers and students, the SGOs are one more piece of paperwork that has to be dealt with, and therefore one more burden on teachers who may be overstressed during COVID-19, said Elizabeth Yucis, the NJEA’s associate director for professional development and instructional issues.
With many districts not opening until later in the fall or in the winter — Montclair is striving for a Nov. 1 opening — teachers may not see their students in person before the Oct. 31 deadline, and therefore might not be able to get a full sense of how students are doing on their work.
“Those teachers could never physically meet their students before the end of the calendar year,” Yucis said.
With schools also making sudden changes, such as going from hybrid back to virtual, it makes it difficult for teachers to set any long-term academic goals for their students, she said.
“We have teachers report they can’t plan two to three days ahead,” Yucis said.
The teacher evaluation system needs to be more flexible, to allow teachers to focus on helping their students improve and addressing their social and emotional needs, NJEA members said. The portfolio process, which was an option or an add-on for teachers in years past, will be used by teachers who are teaching remotely. This method has been favorably received by the NJEA.
With the portfolio process, the teacher and the supervisor agree on a certain time period, with the portfolio containing work from that time period. The teacher also gathers samples of his or her work to present to the evaluation team. The supervisor may also either watch a live class with the teacher and students, or look at prerecorded lessons, class blogs or student discussion pages from the teacher’s class.
“We have an evaluation system that wasn’t built to even contemplate the educational conditions we find ourselves in this year,” NJEA spokesman Steve Baker said.
In 2019, 321 Montclair teachers got a rating of “effective,” and 201 got a rating of “highly effective.” The number of teachers who rated as “ineffective” or “partially effective” was not listed, either because no teachers met the benchmark or the numbers were too low.
The Essex County Education Association and the Montclair Education Association did not respond to requests for comment on teacher evaluations.