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State Approves Pittsburgh Teacher Evaluation System to the Surprise of Teachers Union

The Pennsylvania Department of Education has approved the Pittsburgh Public Schools use of its rigorous and controversial teacher evaluation system for the next three years.

Superintendent Linda Lane said it’s time to stop focusing on teacher evaluations and start focusing on teaching practice.

“I say bravo to that,” said Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers president Nina Esposito-Visgitis. “But you have to understand for the past several years, that’s all the teachers have been is evaluated. It’s hard to say to teachers ‘Alright, we’ve had you under the microscope for two years, we’ve been arguing for two years, now let’s all believe the (evaluation) system.’”

PFT was intimately involved in the creation of the evaluation system, but the major rift between teachers and the district has revolved around the point ranges used to score teacher performance.

The district scores teachers on a 300-point scale, whereas the state uses a three-point scale. The “cut scores,” or the point at which a teacher is deemed to need improvement or to be failing, are also different.

“If we had applied the state’s performance ranges to our system, then we would have actually ended up with basically 100 percent of the teachers proficient, and of course we did not,” Lane said. “Our most recent evaluation had between 3 and 4 percent of our teachers falling below the proficient level.”

In the first official evaluation, completed in June, 3.1 percent of teachers fell below the proficient level, down from 15 percent in the district’s dry run of the evaluation system last year.

But Esposito-Visgitis said, even though the number of teachers needing improvement or failing has decreased dramatically, she is still troubled by the way the district has set the cut scores

“I was surprised by it,” Esposito-Visgitis said, referring to the state’s approval of the evaluation system. “We had had compelling evidence that the state law, Act 82, did not give a provision for districts to choose their own cut scores.”

Esposito-Visgitis said the PFT is in talks with their lawyers about potential legal action related to the cut scores.

In the meantime, Lane said everyone at the district should focus on improving their own practice in order to help students grow.

“Teachers, we’re going to have to improve their practice,” Lane sad. “Principals, we’re going to have to improve their practice. People at central office, we’re going to have to improve our practice. I’m going to have to improve my own practice.”