Evaluating teachers is a heavily contested issue because of the varied methods administrators can use. Such methods include employing students’ standardized test scores, sit-in evaluations by principals, and forms filled out by students. In 2010, New Haven Public Schools (NHPS) implemented a new teacher evaluation and development system (TEVAL) as a result of collaboration among the city’s mayor, superintendent, assistant superintendent, and teachers’ union president (Donaldson, 2015, p. 48). In this new approach, teacher evaluations are measured according to student learning goals, instructional and/or leadership methods, and professional values. All teachers are evaluated according to a five-point scale, ranging from “needs improvement” to “exemplary” by November of the academic year. Teachers are then re-evaluated at the end of the academic year to determine if there was growth for teachers ranked lower on the scale (New Haven Public Schools, 2012). TEVAL is the first practice in New Haven providing valuable qualitative and quantitative feedback for each teacher in NHPS. Why did New Haven educators and city leaders seek a new method of evaluating teachers’ work in 2010? What are the preliminary outcomes for teacher environments and student achievement?
Around 2008, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. faced mounting pressures as there was a national push for increased teacher accountability and increased criticism for New Haven’s declining school system. Although TEVAL is relatively new, it has fostered a collaborative, transparent, and student-centered environment in NHPS. Teachers have additional time to work together and improve their practices (Rubalcaba, 2016). The evaluation process is also transparent with teachers, informing them of their ratings and working with them to improve their teaching statuses during the academic year. Through all of these practices, NHPS is more focused on effectively teaching students and improving grades and graduation rates. At the beginning of the academic year, teachers determine student learning objectives (SLOs) as tools to measure student achievement, keeping the focus of schooling on student achievement and growth. Through TEVAL, underperforming teachers have been enabled to leave voluntarily, having seen and understood their evaluations (Donaldson, 2015, p. 63). Overall, school climate reports were positive, student achievement slightly increased, and dropout rates improved (RAND Education, 2014, p. 2-3). Ultimately, New Haven is serving as a model for the rest of the country, especially with the heavy involvement of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in TEVAL’s creation and implementation.
In February 2009, Mayor DeStefano, Jr. and Superintendent Reggie Mayo approached New Haven Federation of Teachers president David Cicarella with plans for comprehensive school reform (Cicarella, 2014). At the time, a national push for increased teacher accountability was under way, led by President Barack Obama. He pointed to tracking teacher performance, rewarding effective teachers, and removing bad ones. Ultimately, he wanted to hold teachers legitimately accountable to improve the United States’ education system (Dinan, 2009). According to Cicarella, all persons involved in education needed to be dedicated to creating lasting change, which led to the development of TEVAL (Cicarella, 2014). In 2008, one in five third graders was reading at grade level. NHPS serves approximately 20,000 students, where nearly all are poor and Hispanic or black (Bailey, 2013). Ultimately, Mayor DeStefano, Jr. needed a way to change and reverse these outcomes to empower poor Hispanic and black students and their families, whom he had been serving since 1994. There was a sense of urgency for him to create profound effects and, as a political leader, to leave a positive legacy behind in New Haven. This took the form of a groundbreaking teachers’ contract, through which TEVAL emerged.
TEVAL is an approach to evaluating teachers in NHPS that is ongoing from September to July, which is divided by three types of conferences – goal-setting, mid-year, and end-of-year. At the center of the process are teachers and their instructional managers (IMs), who are typically principals, assistant principals, or teacher leaders. Teachers are evaluated according to three main components: SLOs, instructional practices, and professional values. SLOs are measured by student learning growth, as determined by change in scores on assessments and meeting academic goals and standards, as outlined by school districts or state governments. Instructional practices are assessed according to the IM’s observations regarding teacher performance; that is, IMs examine teachers’ preparation, classroom practices, and reflections. Professional values are measured by whether or not the teacher demonstrates professionalism, respects colleagues, and shows high expectations for students (New Haven Public Schools, 2012). These three components are the markers for IMs to uniformly assess all teachers continuously throughout the academic year. They still allow teachers to demonstrate individuality in the classroom, but they also indicate a basic expectation for all teachers.
At the beginning of the academic year, teachers establish SLOs for the academic year, which focuses on the growth of the students the teacher is assigned to. During this time, teachers also work with IMs to determine the teacher’s professional focus for the year and their professional development program; that is, they determine what the teacher’s area of improvement should be and what support mechanisms should be used to help achieve these outcomes. Such mechanisms may include coaches in particular subjects, or collaborating with other teachers in the school. Before November 1st, teachers earning either “exemplary,” a five, or “needs improvement,” a one, status must be notified so a third party can validate their status; these third party evaluators are ex-teachers not affiliated with the school (New Haven Public Schools, 2012). So, the goal-setting conference is used to identify the teacher’s goals for the year in terms of their students and their own teaching practices.
Between November 1st and March 1st the mid-year conference is then used to assess whether teachers are on track to fulfilling their SLOs and other professional goals. Before and after this conference IMs observe teacher practices – specifically through examining instructional time, other classroom observations, data, and other professional exercises. During the mid-year conference, IMs sit down with teachers to discuss their overall performance and development, using the empirical data they gathered during observations. The teacher also conducts a self-assessment, allowing them an opportunity to contribute to their evaluation (New Haven Public Schools). It is at this point during the academic year that teachers become acutely aware of their performance because they are able to discuss one-on-one with an IM the specifics of their performance, whereas before TEVAL was implemented, they did not receive such intimate information. Between March 1st and July the end-of-year conference is conducted, where teachers receive their ultimate evaluation of their performance during the academic year. It is informed by the teacher’s self-evaluation, the final rating the IM reports for each component, and an aggregate rating which is informed by the teacher’s development during the current academic year and their projected development for the following year (New Haven Public Schools, 2012). Because teachers have been involved in their evaluation processes since the beginning, they are aware of their progress – or lack thereof – and use this as an opportunity to make an informed decision about whether or not to continue teaching.
Across the United States, teacher evaluation systems have been so complex that most teachers are evaluated as satisfactory year after year just so administrators can move onto other tasks. This leaves no room or encouragement for improvement, especially with a faulty system. During the 2011-2012 academic year, twenty-nine teachers were rated as “needs improvement” (a one on a five-point scale) under TEVAL. Of those twenty-nine, improved to “developing” (two), four improved to “effective” (three), and two improved to “strong” (four) after one year. During the same year, of the seventy-nine teachers ranked “developing”, thirty-three improved to “effective” and three improved to “strong”. Furthermore, since TEVAL’s implementation, between one and two percent of teachers left NHPS, regardless of tenure status, because of their underperforming status. Most left voluntarily (Districts Rising, p. 2). Because teachers are evaluated at the beginning of the academic year and are notified by November 1st if they are underperforming, they are challenged to improve their practices and receive the proper support through IMs and other practices. During the year, they are also given resources to facilitate this improvement, such as consistent feedback and third party evaluators (Donaldson, 2015, p. 62). The program also calls for an additional thirty minutes to the school day for teachers to collaborate. This provides an opportunity for them to share their best practices and learn from one another. So as not to provide too strict guidelines, schools can determine when and how to use this time, specifically (Districts Rising, p. 2). Creating a collaborative and supportive environment, TEVAL fosters a positive environment where teachers can help one another and hold each other more accountable.
In 2013, twenty teachers lost their jobs as another component of TEVAL was implemented during the 2012-2013 academic year – those who failed to attain an “effective” rating after three years. Of the twenty, eight were tenured and twelve were non-tenured. Because of the newly-implemented standard, four teachers lost their jobs. Instead of facing direct termination from their supervisors, the twenty teachers voluntarily resigned, according to Superintendent Garth Harries (Bailey, 2014). These teachers were able to hold themselves accountable to their students, understanding that their practices had not improved as desired and expected. According to Harries, this added component is another measure to improve the teaching workforce. According to the New Haven Federation of Teachers’ president David Cicarella, teachers have been “treated fairly” and “supported properly” (Bailey, 2014). With each successive year, it seems NHPS has been holding its teachers more accountable, and teachers are facing the pressure to be increasingly effective in the classroom.
Preliminary outcomes on student achievement can be attributed to TEVAL and other components of the groundbreaking teachers’ contract signed in 2009. From 2009 to 2014, high school graduation rates increased from 58.1% to 75.5%. College enrollment increased by eight percentage points between 2014 and 2015. The percentage of students from New Haven who returned to college for a second year was 78.5% in 2015, whereas the national average is 68.7%. Eighth graders scoring at least proficient on Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) increased from 62.1% to 72% in math, and 51.2% to 72.8% in reading from 2008 to 2013. These rates also increased for grades five through seven. Enrollment in NHPS also increased by 9% from 2010 to 2015, whereas enrollment in public schools statewide has declined (New Haven Public Schools, 2015).
Other than TEVAL, other components of the groundbreaking 2009 contract were hiring new management for a few failing schools each year, having teachers reapply for their jobs at these schools, and 3% annual raises for teachers (Bailey, 2013). Ultimately, such changes have allowed the NHPS system to turn around and improve student outcomes. However, because such changes have only recently taken place, not all outcomes can be necessarily attributed to the 2009 teachers’ contract. Examining these statistics preliminarily, New Haven is under close watch to see the long-term effects of TEVAL and these other practices, such as how NHPS students perform in college, the effects on New Haven’s economy, and the socioeconomic makeup of the city. Ultimately, TEVAL emerged from growing concerns over educational outcomes in the country, where city and school leaders were able to respond with collaborative efforts making students the focus of these reforms. The reform’s preliminary effects have created a hopeful atmosphere for the future of NHPS where teachers can be held more accountable and provided the necessary support for their teaching practices. Unlike previously ineffective approaches, TEVAL allows IMs to work with teachers individually to develop the plan that works best for them.
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