Christine Stuart photo
Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and School Board Chairman Allan Taylor (Christine Stuart photo)

The State Board of Education unanimously approved guidelines Wednesday that will for the first time in the state’s history tie teacher evaluations to student performance.

The guidelines for rating teacher effectiveness evolved after 18 months of discussion by the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council, which reached consensus earlier this month on just how much of the evaluation should be tied to student performance.

Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor admitted that there were still disagreements over some elements of the new guidelines, but promised the kinks would be worked out over the next year as the system is piloted in 16 school districts.

“These guidelines will ensure that the new statutory definition of ‘effective practice’ in our schools is judged with breadth and fidelity,” Allan Taylor, chairman of the school board, said.

School administrators, board officials, and education organizations praised the new guidelines, but Mary Loftus Levine, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, warned against putting too much emphasis on student test scores.

Under the system approved by the school board, standardized tests and other student indicators will make up about 45 percent of a teacher’s performance while the rest is made up by classroom observation, parent and peer surveys, and mutually agreed upon goals.

Teachers will then be rated on a four-point scale which says they’re exemplary, proficient, developing, or below standard. Loftus Levine said student performance on standardized test scores is still given too much weight and she ventured a guess that good teachers could be penalized if they have students who don’t do well on standardized tests. She also said it’s likely to drive young teachers out of the profession.

Some board members felt the rating system was a little vague and raised questions about what steps will be taken if a teacher is found to be performing below standards.

“If your child is sitting in a classroom with a teacher that has a very low rating that does not provide me the comfort I need to have as a parent,” Theresa Hopkins Staten, vice chairwoman of the board, said.

She said the district should then be responsible to provide the support needed to improve teacher performance.

Pryor said that’s why Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget included $5 million in the state budget for professional development. The pilot program was funded with $2.5 million.

There also were questions about whether these teacher evaluations would be available for parents to see, since they may fall outside the personnel file. Pryor said he didn’t think they would be available to parents or the public under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

Joseph Cirasuolo, who is executive director of the Connection Association of Public School Superintendents and also a member of the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council, said he also didn’t necessarily agree with all of the guidelines adopted by the board Wednesday, but felt there was a greater good in reaching a consensus.

“For the first time as a system we are going to be held responsible and accountable, not just for what we do, but for the results of what we do,” Cirasuolo said.

Cirasuolo reminded the school board Wednesday why state officials and stakeholders took on such a controversial topic. He said the celebration will come when “we can say that every child in this state, as a result of their public school experience, will have learned what they needed to know and to be able to do — the skill level — to lead decent lives and productive lives.”

The evaluation guidelines piloted in the 16 school districts this year will be evaluated by the University of Connecticut NEAG School of Education and adopted by school districts on a statewide basis in 2014.

The action taken Wednesday by the board was praised by Malloy.

“Today’s approval by the State Board of Education of teacher and principal evaluation guidelines is a significant step forward in the implementation of our education reform program,” he said in a statement. “We look forward to the upcoming pilot of the new system.”