OPS teacher evaluations, merit-based pay on table as district plans its future - Omaha.com
Published Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 8:25 am
Omaha school board
OPS teacher evaluations, merit-based pay on table as district plans its future
OPS teacher evaluation system
» Focuses on planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction and professional and leadership responsibilities.

» Those four domains are broken down into 57 criteria used to grade teachers.

» Tenured teachers are observed twice and non-tenured teachers three times — including one announced visit and two surprise visits.

» Principals are trained to look for signs of an effective, well-run classroom — kids who know to raise their hands before speaking, teachers who know how to steer a discussion back on track — and to monitor student instruction.

» Principals observe what strategies teachers use to teach material, how they pace lessons and whether they provide detailed, age-appropriate feedback to students.

» Teachers can fall into four categories: unsatisfactory, basic, proficient and distinguished.

Yearly performance reviews, merit-based pay and peer evaluations could all be on the table as the Omaha Public Schools board takes a fresh look at evaluating teachers.

The conversation comes as the district creates its first strategic plan in more than a decade.

“We know with every strategic plan across the country, high-quality teachers are one of those large umbrellas in the plan and we know teacher evaluation is a part of that,” school board President Justin Wayne said.

Any new proposals are likely to focus on how often teacher evaluations take place and whether student achievement — including test scores — and feedback from fellow teachers, parents and students should factor into evaluations.

“Some board members are looking to increase annual formal reviews, and I think this board will have a conversation about teacher pay and how that works,” Wayne said.

The OPS board was recently briefed on the district's current teacher evaluation system. The board has not set a time line for making any changes. The strategic plan is merely a springboard to discuss what, if anything, should be tweaked, Wayne said.

Test scores or other gauges of student achievement aren't factored into OPS evaluations. The district evaluates tenured teachers every three years and nontenured teachers annually. Teachers gain tenure after working in a district for three years.

Board member Matt Scanlan said he'd be interested in debating the merits of annual evaluations.

“If a teacher's doing a great job, the evaluation will show that,” he said. “Many companies do more than just one evaluation of employees in a year.”

OPS Superintendent Mark Evans helped establish a peer-­review model when he worked in the Wichita Public Schools.

That kind of system could work in OPS, Wayne said, but it would require a change in state law, which now requires administrators to conduct evaluations.

Scanlan and board member Marian Fey said any attempt to tie student achievement to a teacher's job performance must be weighed carefully.

“I think that will have to be part of the discussion, but it's a very difficult thing to just go off test scores,” Scanlan said. “Classroom makeup is different from grade to grade and school to school, and you have to make sure you're comparing apples to apples.”

Fey said studies haven't shown a clear link between student achievement and a teacher's effectiveness, arguing that outside factors such as parental involvement and poverty can have just as big an impact on how well a child does in school as their teacher.

“I'd caution against weighing student achievement much, if at all,” she said.

Omaha Education Association President Chris Proulx said his union expects that the strategic plan will usher in some changes. Members are holding internal discussions on what changes could be coming and the pros and cons of the current framework.

“We're trying to put everything on the table and see where people stand on different topics,” he said.

The question of how to evaluate teachers can be a minefield. A 2012 bill calling for annual evaluations for all Nebraska teachers ran into dogged opposition from school administrators and the state's teachers union, and it died in committee.

Nebraska law requires that school districts adopt a written evaluation policy, and reviews must take into consideration instructional performance, classroom management and personal and professional conduct.

At a meeting Monday, several OPS board members questioned how the district dealt with problem teachers, or those who might be struggling in their first years on the job.

Problem teachers can be handed straight to the district's human resource department, but help is available for those who simply have trouble managing a class of 20 energetic kids or teaching one subject in particular, said Janice Garnett, OPS's assistant superintendent for human resources.

Informal interventions can be launched by a principal or assistant principal, allowing a teacher to receive coaching or a detailed improvement plan during a six- to eight-week period. If the problem persists, human resources steps in and launches a formal intervention that could end with an employment recommendation.

“We're really talking about a very small number when we're talking about teachers in need of assistance,” human resources administrator Nicole Regan said.

Of OPS's 3,800 teachers, 17 were placed on informal intervention last year. Ten of those teachers moved into the formal intervention phase and several ultimately resigned.

Teacher evaluations have gained new prominence in recent years, due in part to an unflattering 2009 study of evaluation methods and federal funding programs such as Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind that have tied grants and waivers to increased teacher accountability. A recently released report from the Center for Public Education found more than two-thirds of states have overhauled their teacher evaluation systems since 2009.

The Center for Public Education report found most states now weigh test scores as part of an evaluation, but link that with more traditional assessments, such as classroom observations and lesson plan reviews.

This year, the Nebraska Department of Education began piloting a two-year teacher and principal evaluation model in 17 school districts, including Belle­vue.

The model is still under development, but it currently uses student learning objectives — not test scores — to review teachers. Teachers and principals set learning targets at the beginning of the school year and review students' academic progress throughout the year.

Contact the writer: Erin Duffy

erin.duffy@owh.com    |   402-444-1210

Erin covers education, primarily Omaha Public Schools.

Grace: Pipe organ concert a tribute to couple's enduring love
Omaha-area jails and ERs new front line in battling mental illness
Convicted killer Nikko Jenkins might await his sentence in prison
Kelly: 70 years after a deadly D-Day rehearsal, Omahan, WWII vet will return to Europe
Sole big donor to Beau McCoy says he expects nothing in return
Civil rights hearing to consider voting policies in Midwest
Firefighters battle brush fire near Fontenelle Forest
17 senators in Nebraska Legislature hit their (term) limits
It's a pursuit of pastel at Spring Lake Park's Easter egg hunt
Financial picture improving for city-owned Mid-America Center
No injuries after fire at midtown's old Mercer Mansion
29-year-old Omahan arrested for 22nd time in Lincoln
Police: Slaying of woman in Ralston apartment likely over drugs
Explosion near 29th, Woolworth damages vehicles
Omaha police arrest man, 19, accused in March shooting
Earth gets its day in the sun at Elmwood Park
Beau McCoy strikes Obama doll in TV ad; Democrats are not happy
Keystone XL pipeline backers blast 'political expediency' as foes hail ruling to delay decision
Nebraska senators to study tax issues over break
Portion of Saddle Creek Road closed after water main break
Teenager arrested after woman's purse is snatched outside Omaha store
Police identify 21-year-old shot in ankle near 30th, W Streets
Cult murderer's death row appeal denied, but execution in limbo
Interstate construction to cause lane shifts, closings in Omaha area
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Kelly: 70 years after a deadly D-Day rehearsal, Omahan, WWII vet will return to Europe
A World War II veteran from Omaha will return this week to Europe to commemorate a tragedy in the run-up to D-Day.
Dickson’s Week in Review, April 13-19
On Twitter some guy tweeted that the spring game isn’t taken as seriously as a regular-season contest. What was your first clue? When the head coach entered waving a cat aloft?
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
The main speaker at today's Ivy Day celebration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a college president who grew up roping calves and earned her Ph.D. at the prestigious Oxford University in England.
Breaking Brad: Stuck in a claw machine? You get no Easter candy
I know of one kid in Lincoln who will be receiving a lump of coal from the Easter Bunny, just as soon as he's extricated from that bowling alley claw machine.
Breaking Brad: Mountain lion season's over, but the bunny's fair game!
Thursday was the last day of a Nebraska Legislature session. Before leaving town, legislators passed a bill to hold a lottery to hunt the Easter Bunny.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »