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Poway, Calif., Grows New Assessment System on Reform Roots

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By Julia E. Koppich and Daniel C. Humphrey

San Diego County's Poway Unified School District (PUSD) has a long history of innovation. Once again, PUSD and its teacher union, the Poway Federation of Teachers (PFT), are collaborating on a new take on teacher evaluation, the Teacher Professional Learning and Effectiveness System, which integrates ongoing teacher professional growth with performance appraisal.

Paving the Way for a New System

In 1986 Poway became one of the early national pioneers of peer review. The PUSD and PFT together developed the Poway Professional Assistance Program (PPAP) for beginning teachers and the Permanent Teacher Intervention Program (PTIP) for struggling experienced teachers. Well-trained, carefully selected Teacher Consultants work with novices and underperforming experienced teachers to provide intensive, one-on-one support and assess their performance. The programs are overseen by a joint labor-management Governance Board. The experience with PPAP and PTIP built the PUSD's and PFT's collective understanding of successful strategies to support new and veteran teachers, effective ways to use evidence to assess professional growth and development, and strategies for having hard conversations about professional practice.

The Teaching and Learning Cooperative (TLC), created in 2003, is also guided by a joint labor-management board, the Professional Development Advisory Board. The TLC expanded the district's capacity to offer targeted professional development to meet individual teacher's needs. Together, peer review and the TLC laid the foundation for the Teacher Professional Learning and Effectiveness System.

Why a New System?

Like most California school districts, Poway had long used the evaluation framework laid out in the state's 1971 Stull Act. No one was happy with it. District and union leaders had a keen sense that the system was out of alignment with the philosophy and rigor of the peer review and TLC programs and they determined to make a change.

Developing the Teacher Professional Learning and Effectiveness System

Development of the Teacher Professional Learning and Effectiveness system began in 2013. Still a work-in-progress, work on the new system is guided by the Core Evaluation Team composed of district and union appointees and reflecting core constituencies (central office, principals, and teachers). Through a district-union agreement, money was appropriated from the general fund to release a teacher full-time for three years to lead the work.

To move its work forward, the Core Evaluation Team reviewed research on teacher evaluation, consulted with experts, and conducted a teacher survey before settling on criteria that have bounded system development:

  • Teacher evaluation should be standards-based, developmentally appropriate, and include multiple measures.
  • Trained evaluators who know how to give productive, actionable feedback linked to professional development are integral to an effective system.
  • Teachers must be partners in the assistance and review process.
  • Appraisal and development work should be ongoing, collaborative, and overseen by panels of teachers and administrators to ensure quality and consistency.

Elements of the New System

Once fully in place, Poway's new teacher growth and evaluation system will be a multi-measure system composed of three key elements:

  1. Standards-based evidence of practice gathered through observations by trained teachers and administrators, review of classroom videos, data from student perception surveys, and examination of instructional artifacts;
  2. Teacher's impact on student learning as measured by teacher-developed student learning objectives (SLOs) that use classroom, department, grade level, or district assessments for benchmark and summative measures of student learning; and,
  3. Teacher's contribution to the profession based on individual professional learning goals, measured progression toward meeting those goals, and teachers' contributions to school site goals.

Collected data will inform teachers' ongoing professional development and be used by the district to make key personnel decisions, including awarding permanence (tenure) and appropriate disposition of teachers not meeting standards. Poway plans to leave its peer review programs for beginning teachers and struggling experienced teachers in place.

Still a Work-in-Progress

Poway has systematically and strategically engaged teachers in developing the Professional Learning and Effectiveness system. Peer review Teacher Consultants took the lead in revising the district's Continuum of Teaching Standards.

Following initial work to revise the Continuum, teachers and administrators from across the district reviewed the document and suggested revisions. The updated Continuum takes into account research findings about measuring effective teaching and consideration of standards and criteria that will move teacher professional practice to successively higher levels. In a trial run, Teacher Consultants have used the Continuum in PAR. The Continuum also is being used at five pilot schools during the 2015-16 school year. Under the TLC umbrella, teacher volunteers have investigated various multi-measure system elements, such as SLOs and formative assessments, and provided feedback to the Core Evaluation Team on the efficacy of various proposals.

The district is piloting the full system in a small number of schools in 2015-16. Next school year, 2016-17, Poway will expand the pilot to half the schools in the district. Full implementation is planned for 2017-18.

By intimately involving teachers as partners in developing the new system, the district and union have simultaneously made use of home grown professional expertise and strengthened crucial early buy-in for a comprehensive and wholly new growth-based approach to teacher evaluation.

Julia Koppich is president of Koppich & Associates and Daniel Humphrey is an independent consultant.

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