On October 12, 2011, West Orange High School hosted the latest in a series of public forums on education run by the New Jersey County Teachers of the Year (NJCTY). The newly-formed group hopes the forums will encourage constructive input and positive communication between parents, educators, students, and other interested residents. Last week’s Essex County forum asked “How Do We Fairly Assess Teachers?” Previous forums focusing on “Quality Education: What Does it Look Like?” were held in Somerset and Morris Counties. A Mercer County forum, held in July, had the same topic as last Wednesday’s Essex County forum.
Teacher evaluation has always been a hot topic, but it recently gained momentum as Governor Christie has made assessing teacher quality a top priority, instituting a $1.1 million pilot program in 11 districts around the state. In fact, the main presenter at the Essex County forum, Carl Blanchard, was not only the Somerset County Teacher of the Year for 2011, he is also a member of the Evaluation Pilot Advisory Committee (EPAC), the advisory committee working to improve and fine-tune the state recommended evaluation techniques already being used in those pilot districts.
The attendees, a collection of about thirty participants, including teachers, administrators, presenters, West Orange’s Mayor Parisi, community members, and one high school student, were presented with the components of teacher evaluation recommended by the New Jersey Educator Task Force. Then, participants were asked to respond with their positive feelings, concerns, and – most importantly – suggestions for modification and implementation of the task force’s vision.
Some teachers in attendance asked questions related to assessment of teachers in subjects like Physical Education, Art, and Music. Questions also came up about testing and evaluating English Language Learners and Special Education students. One administrator wondered about the logistics of providing a quality assessment when observing a department of 30-40 teachers several times a year.
The presenters, including Danielle Kovach, the 2010-11 New Jersey Teacher of the Year, as well as Tynia Thomassie and Erica DePalo, both West Orange High School teachers and Essex County Teachers of the year, reminded participants that the forum’s goal is to listen to concerns, and to also brainstorm suggestions and solutions. As Erica DePalo said, “We can sit and complain, but if we don’t give suggestions or solutions, what’s the purpose?”
In small groups, community members came up with several suggestions for continued development of the evaluations. Some included making sure to consider all factors that can affect a student’s performance: class size, family situation, transience issues (whether at home or in school), and health problems. Another suggestion was to include both self-evaluation and peer reflection in the assessment structure, including rotating peer observation and review. Specifically, one group mentioned the Peer Assistance and Review in the Montgomery County, MD school system. In response to a raised concern about students evaluating their teachers, one group suggested holding group discussions with older students and using iconic images of positive and negative reactions to help younger students express their opinions accurately.
The NJCTY members will be reporting back the feedback received through these forums to Governor Christie and the Department of Education. To see recommendations from the Morris County forum, visit the NJCTY posting about them. If the Essex County forum recommendations go on-line, we will provide that link.
The NJCTY will continue to hold these community forums throughout New Jersey counties in the hope of encouraging positive and productive discourse between all stakeholders in the education of New Jersey’s children.
For more information about this group and its goals, visit their website here. Those community members who are unable to attend forums are encouraged to complete the appropriate survey, also hosted at the NJCTY website.