CTNJ file photo
Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor (CTNJ file photo)

Teachers were concerned about the “lack of training” regarding goal setting for student learning objectives, while school principals raised objections about the number of observations the new teacher evaluation system requires.

Those are just two observations made by researchers from the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education. They studied the implementation of Connecticut’s new teacher evaluation system during its pilot year in 10 school districts.

State Education Commission Stefan Pryor is not concerned.

“As is true with implementation of any complex new system, the early stages can be characterized by a good amount of anxiety and that is true in this case,” Pryor said Thursday after the study was released.

He said he welcomes the recommendations regarding implementation of the new system, and he recognizes that the model being used to evaluate teachers and administrators may need to be revised. He wants to make sure that’s done in collaboration with education stakeholders.

The study that was conducted between September 2012 and October 2013 found that more than half or 58 percent of teachers and 59 percent of school administrators surveyed felt that their rating was accurate under the new evaluation system. Also, 57 percent of teachers felt their post-observation conferences were “valuable.”

A whopping 94 percent of administrators reported that observing teachers under the system was somewhat or very valuable to them and 68 percent of teachers found analyzing student data valuable.

But finishing the three formal and three informal classroom observations of teachers was difficult, school principals told researchers.

The Neag study found that most districts were able to complete two formal and two informal observations. An estimated 69 percent of teachers surveyed reported having two or more informal observations, which last about 10-minutes, and 64 percent reported two or more formal observations, which last about a half hour and include post-observation discussion by the teacher and evaluator.

About 50 percent of teachers reported they had been observed more than in previous years, and 74 percent of teachers reported spending more time on goal setting than under previous evaluation systems.

“Almost half of the teachers surveyed (44 percent) agreed or strongly agreed that feedback from the observations prompted them to change their practice while 25 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed,” according to the Neag study. “This may be related to the fact that a relatively large percentage (55 percent) reported that feedback from observations were useful to them as professionals, while 23 percent disagreed that this was the case.”

Neag researchers interviewed hundreds of teachers and principals in compiling the study released Thursday. In those interviews they found that “almost all principals reported struggling to complete the required number of observations.”

“Principals in many pilot sites stated that they devoted substantial time on a near-daily basis attending to observations and corresponding pre- and post-observation conferences, and documenting the process,” the study found. Three districts reduced the number of observations as a result.

Several elementary principals said that in order to complete the evaluations they were working seven days a week, “whereas in previous years they could complete their work in 5-6 days per week.”

Litchfield Schools Superintendent Deborah Wheeler said she felt that there was a “depth” to the conversations that were happening between teachers and principals under the new evaluation system that wasn’t happening previously.

Wheeler, whose district participated in the pilot, said the evaluation became “much more personalized” and they spent more time on “goal setting” than initially allotted because they felt the payback on that was “tremendous.” It allowed teachers and evaluators to reflect deeply on their practices in the classroom.

Representatives of the state’s two teacher unions agreed that flexibility and cooperation were going to be important in the future as the system is implemented statewide this year.

Mark Waxenberg, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, said the state and the school districts will have to “look at this with flexibility.”

He said researchers found some areas that need to be addressed and other ones that will simply take some time.

Melodie Peters, president of AFT Connecticut, the state’s second largest teachers union, agreed that flexibility remains a key part of how the state moves forward.

“Going forward, we intend to remain fully engaged in the process of effectively implementing a better and more effective evaluation system,” Peters said. “Applying the hard work, reflection, care, persistence and intellect of great teachers to this task is the way to ensure it’s done right.”

But there are bound to be some hiccups as the new system is implemented.

This year as the new evaluation system is employed, the state will transition to the Common Core Standards.

“We need to make sure that these reforms are mutually reinforcing and that they form a coherent whole,” Pryor said of the convergence of new evaluations with new standards.

He said the rubric for how classroom observation should be done will be different than the one used in the pilot. He said the rubric will be the “Common Core of Teaching” and will give observers the elements to look for in conducting an observation and the elements to dialogue about after the observation is completed.

The National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers developed the Common Core out of a concern that the United States was falling behind the rest of the world. The standards are expected to teach children to be critical thinkers and to resolve problems in ways that go beyond memorization.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Waxenberg said of the implementation of the Common Core and the new teacher evaluation system.