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Pittsburgh Public Schools Take A Different Approach to Teacher Evaluations

This school year, students at Pittsburgh Public Schools will not be the only ones rigorously evaluated.

Teachers will be evaluated using a new system unlike any other in the state.

Act 82 was signed last summer requiring school districts across the state to use a system where principal observation only consists of half of teacher evaluations, with the other half coming from student outcomes, including assessment tests.

PPS applied, and was granted, permission to use a different teacher evaluation system for the 2013-14 school year.

“Six years ago, I don’t think that we had an effective observation process,” said Nina Sacco, principal at Perry High School. “Six years ago, you went in and did an observation and signed a piece of paper saying the teacher was satisfactory. There wasn’t much of a conversation about what was satisfactory.

According to A+Schools, Pittsburgh’s Community Alliance for Public Education, the school district gave its teachers the opportunity to weigh in on a system they felt best represented their teaching.

Under the new system, teacher evaluations will be broken down into three components: 50 percent classroom observation and feedback, 35 percent student growth measures and 15 percent student feedback.

With Pittsburgh Public Schools, classroom observations and feedback have been measured by a system called Research-based Inclusive System of Evaluation (RISE) the past three years.

Through RISE, principals, administrators and teacher leaders have observed teachers formally at least once a year.

A+Schools Director of Research and Data Analysis Amy Scott said most teachers find RISE to be helpful, so it will continue with the new evaluation system.

“It’s not just the evaluation system that’s important, it’s more important to have a strong dialogue and to increase the teachers understanding as well as increase my understanding," said LouAnne Zwierynski, principal of Faison K-5. "RISE does that wonderfully.”

The student feedback element will consist of the a survey, which is grade specific for students K-12.

It measures how well students are learning and engaging in the classroom based on seven different areas: care, control, clarify, challenge, captivate, confirm and consolidate.

Student growth will be shown by Value Added Modeling (VAM), which is measured by multiple years of student data including assessment tests.

VAM also takes into account student differences such as special education that could affect their achievement.

“A great teacher motivates, inspires, gets kids to go farther than they ever could go before,” said Derek Long, a teacher at Perry High School.

PPS and the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers have worked together for five years to craft this system.

Jess is from Elizabeth Borough, PA and is a junior at Duquesne University with a double major in journalism and public relations. She was named as a fellow in the WESA newsroom in May 2013.