The Montclair Board of Education’s January 28 meeting drew a large crowd despite the nighttime freezing rain, as members of the Montclair Education Association (MEA) gathered to hear, among other things, a presentation from the District Evaluation Advisory Committee (DEAC) on their findings for the proper set of standards with which to evaluate teachers and principals. The adoption of such a system is mandated by the Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey (TEACHNJ) Act. Committee leader Dr. Gail Clarke, principal of Nishuane School, reported to the board that the proposal teacher evaluation rubric designed by Boston educator Kim Marshall was the logical choice out of five possible programs the committee had studied.
The “Marshall Plan” – which School Superintendent Penny MacCormack and Board President Robin Kulwin chose to refer to officially as the Marshall Evaluation Rubric to obviously avoid confusion with the 1947 program that aided postwar Western Europe—consists of several results based on its use in other districts that DEAC believed would improve faculty performance. Among its findings were that the Marshall rubric allows teachers and principals to have a shared understanding of what constitutes quality teaching, it encourages principals to get into classrooms on a more frequent basis, and it enables them to see how children regularly perform in class every day.
“It just really spoke to good teaching practice and collegial feedback,” Dr. Clarke told the board. “It did not have an evaluative tone to it; it had a growth tone to it. So it was very appealing to me as a principal, and then of course not having six hours of paperwork to provide equal feedback to teachers would allow that feedback to be more timely . . . and more about instruction.”
DEAC member Katherine Martinez, the interim assistant superintendent for instruction and assessment, agreed and noted that the Marshall model made the classrooms more accessible for evaluation. “By being the classrooms regularly and often,” she said, “we get an opportunity to see what we need to make instruction better. Do we need to look back at our curriculum? Do we have any gaps? Can we take this to the next level?” She said that the evaluations would provide helpful information to the central office.
Board member Norman Rosenblum said that the evaluation plan was something the school district could look forward to. But he asked if the Marshall approach took different standardized tests into account. Dr. Clarke told the board that the plan does not address that directly, but the DEAC’s work would inform their decisions with regard to what other multiple measures they would use in a final observation of each teacher. Board member Tanya Coke also asked how many evaluations were recommended. Dr. Clarke explained that four evaluations per year for tenured teachers and five evaluations a year for non-tenured teachers were recommended by code, but she recommended a minimum of ten evaluations for all teachers each year.
“It’s very exciting to me,” board member Leslie Larson said of the idea of getting principals and teachers to work together for improved faculty performance. “It seems like such a collaborative process . . . trying to create a culture of everyone trying to improve.”
The board, at the recommendation of Mrs. Kulwin, who is also a DEAC member , approved the plan by motion. Angelica Allen-McMillan and Shelly Lombard were absent.
Dr. MacCormack also took the time to stress the need to integrate academic standards for reading and writing for both students who continue to go to college and those who directly enter the workforce. She noted that students may have been able to get by on a watered-down vocational track and been able to get jobs that could support a family comfortably, but those jobs are gone.
“Research now shows us that you actually need the same set of skills of knowledge to be ready for careers as you do for college,” Dr. MacCormack said. She cited blue-collar jobs such as an electrician or a plumber, and how training manuals for such jobs show a need for a college-level ability to develop a defensible point of view from written text and writing clear, concise narratives. She urged parents to offer suggestions for making the standards more rigorous if they feel that extra rigor is needed.
Resident George Bennett, a physician, did indeed suggest in public comment that standards were in need of strengthening. He cited raw data showing how Montclair High School students were being outperformed in Jersey City Science High School and Elizabeth High School despite numerous rubrics meant to improve teaching in the Montclair school system. “When 58 percent of the town’s budget goes towards education, outcome matters,” he said. “We could discuss process ad infintum, ad nauseum. But when I listened to your presentation, it failed to take into consideration that your neighbors are outperforming you . . .. Science High School has always outranked Montclair, despite what everyone wants to say.”
Dr. MacCormack acknowledged that there were areas that Montclair needs to grow in, based on the data she herself has presented before, and she was looking toward moving forward with plans and strategies to improve student performance. Rosenblum said it was unfair to compare Science High School to Montclair, as the Jersey City school was much more selective, but he did admit that there was work to be done in closing the achievement gap.
The school board also passed resolutions approving bills and claims for the months of December 2012 and January 2013 later in the evening.