Teacher evaluation process discussed by Mehlville board

By EVAN YOUNG

A teacher evaluation process is only as good as its execution, Mehlville School District officials told the Board of Education last week.

Board members were given an overview of the district’s performance-based teacher evaluation process, or PBTE, during their Nov. 19 regular meeting.

“We never want to come before the board and tell you this is what we’re doing, and then it’s not what we’re doing …,” Superintendent Terry Noble said during the meeting about the process, which he noted was a “strong point of emphasis” for his administration. “I want to be able to look you in the eye and tell you that this process is being followed in every building, and where it has failed in the past it will not fail in the future.

“And I know we’re aware of some places where it hasn’t been done as well as it needs to be, but we are definitely on top of that at this point, and all of our building-level administrators are definitely aware of what the expectations are in this area.”

Mehlville’s PBTE is modeled after that of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education — a collaborative process involving both teachers and administrators that addresses professional development as much as it does the actual evaluation, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Lisa Counts said.

“It’s not just a tool to evaluate performance, but it’s also to look at performance and how teachers can continually improve,” she said.

Teachers develop professional development plans at the beginning of each school year with their principal and, in the case of first- and second-year educators, with a mentor assigned through a formal mentoring program. Plans can include a variety of goals, such as implementing new teaching methods or taking on a research project, Counts said.

Principals conduct all teacher evaluations. During each of their first three years, teachers receive three formal evaluations. One is scheduled — the teacher and principal meet beforehand to discuss the lesson plan for the day and on which areas the former wants feedback — and two are nonscheduled. Post-observation conferences are conducted after each formal evaluation.

As teachers reach their fourth and fifth years with the district, they receive one scheduled and one nonscheduled observation a year, along with accompanying post-observation conferences.

At the end of every school year during their first five years, teachers receive a summative evaluation report and revisit their professional development plans.

Once teachers receive tenure, the evaluation timeline expands into a four-year cycle. During each cycle, they receive either two scheduled evaluations or one scheduled and one nonscheduled evaluation. They are given a summative report and conference with their principal during the last year of the cycle.

However, principals can place tenured teachers back on a yearly evaluation timeline if they believe there is an area of concern, Counts said.

Besides scheduled and nonscheduled formal observations, principals also conduct periodic drop-in observations with teachers during each school year. While formal evaluations last the entire class period, drop-in sessions usually are conducted in 10 to 20 minutes, Counts said.

The frequency of drop-in observations varies from building to building, she said, but principals are expected to “do a few of those throughout the course of the year for every teacher so that they’re seeing instruction on an ongoing basis.” Principals also conduct drop-in observations outside of the PBTE when a student or parent ex-presses concern about a teacher or situation in a classroom, she added.

Teachers are evaluated in four areas: planning and preparation; classroom environment; instruction; and professional responsibility. With each evaluation, teachers are rated as “meets expectation,” “near expectation” or “does not meet expectation.”

Educators who don’t make the “meets expectation” level enter into an “awareness phase,” which entails a higher number of drop-in observations and conversations with their principal. If that doesn’t work, principals and teachers collaboratively develop a “professional improvement plan.”

But the common perception that it’s impossible to fire tenured teachers is inaccurate, board member Karl Frank Jr. said last week. While educators have rights as employees, they can be terminated for being ineffective — if the documentation is there, he told the board.

“Absolutely,” Counts said. “It’s about the documentation. If there’s an area of growth, it’s up to the administrator to really work through that and document that and make sure that if the growth isn’t happening, they’re tracking that … So it absolutely can occur, it just has to be documented.”

“As long as the administration’s doing their job,” Frank said.

“That’s right,” Counts replied.

Noble told the Call Friday the desire to have a strong teacher evaluation program extends beyond district administrators and the school board.

“Good teachers appreciate the opportunity to display their abilities in the classroom, and they also like to get feedback — positive or negative — and do some reflecting on their instruction process,” he said. “The goal as always is that improved instruction leads to improved student achievement, and I’m happy to say our teachers are very supportive of that.”