HARRIS - Teachers and administrators from five area schools in the Delta-Schoolcraft ISD gathered Wednesday at the Island Resort & Casino for a forum on strengthening educator evaluation systems in their districts.
The two-day forum and workshop sessions, hosted by the Bark River-Harris School District, are designed to help districts develop and improve new state education evaluation requirements.
Bark River-Harris Superintendent Jason Lockwood said he decided to invite local school districts to the forum after attending workshop sessions on the new requirements at Northern Michigan University earlier this summer.
Last year, the state legislature enacted legislation that requires districts have a teacher evaluation system in place, using student performance as one of the criteria. In the 2013-14 school year, for example, 25 percent of the evaluation must be based on student performance, said Lockwood.
"We all have been working hard to meet the new requirements mandated by law," he said. "This workshop gives us an opportunity to work together in teams of administrators and teachers to improve upon our systems so that is workable."
Lockwood said the goal is to develop a fair evaluation system that improves teaching and student learning.
"Some of the concerns is that the tools that we have need to be redefined or need further definitions," explained Lockwood. "What (does) the specific domain look like if you walk into a classroom and you are trying to measure delivery of instruction? What does a 'highly-effective' teacher look like versus an 'ineffective teacher,' and how do you define those domains?"
Betty LaPointe, an independent consultant working as an external evaluator at the Manistique School District, said another major concern is how teachers retain their positions.
"I think the big concern here is that in the past, people were retaining their positions based on the amount of years they've spent in the district, and now retaining their position, should cutbacks come along, is based on the scoring that they get in these evaluations," she said. "So we're changing the whole realm of teaching to keeping the good teachers - not necessarily the oldest."
She said it is imperative that the process is fair, and believes there are many other elements to teacher evaluations than strictly formal observation.
Ellen Holmes, of the National Education Association in Washington, D.C., was a featured presenter during Wednesday's sessions. Holmes has experience in assisting districts around the country facing issues of education reform.
"Here and nationally, a major concern is how do we build trust in developing a teacher evaluation system when the folks that have to build the system may not have a history of acting collaboratively?" questioned Holmes.
She noted those participating in the forum and workshop have come with a willingness to collaborate and develop a tool to improve learning for all students.
"At the NEA, that's how we view an evaluation system," she said. "An evaluation system can't simply be legislated. It has to be co-created with all of the major stakeholders taking part in that."
Holmes said discussion on Wednesday focused on what constitutes a high-quality evaluation system and how to define what to look for. They also discussed how student outcome data plays a role in the evaluation system, and how to train everyone on its use and implementation.
"My goal ... is to leave folks with a good foundation to then go back and develop something that actually works," she said.
The forum and workshops conclude today.