The Sitka School District will pilot the iObservation teacher evaluation tool next year. Board members wondered if it will change the management model in buildings. "You can not be both an evaluator and a mentor," said incoming superintendent Mary Wegner.

The Sitka School District will pilot the iObservation teacher evaluation tool next year. Board members wondered if it will change the management model in buildings. “You can not be both an evaluator and a mentor,” said incoming superintendent Mary Wegner.

A new, state-mandated evaluation system will hold everyone — teachers and administrators — accountable for student performance, beginning next fall.

The Sitka School Board Tuesday night (4-15-14) got its first look at web-based software that will follow the progress of teachers over the course of the school year.

But how far poor student outcomes can drag down a teacher’s evaluation remains a big question mark.

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Revised teacher evaluations are just one part of a three-part strategy to improve schools. The other two are the new Common Core curriculum — which Alaska has adopted with some modifications and calls the “Alaska Standards” — and online student testing.

The Common Core and teacher evaluations will both be piloted in the coming school year.

Blatchley assistant principal Robyn Taylor — who has been promoted to assistant superintendent beginning this summer — is leading the effort to adopt new evaluation methods, with a committee of teaching staff and fellow administrators.

Teacher evaluations are nothing new. In fact, they’re one of the largest responsibilities of a building administrator.

Vocational teacher Tim Pike accompanied Taylor and Keet Gooshi Heen principal Casey Demmert to Kodiak and Kenai last week to see the new tool in action.

“So the observation piece isn’t what’s got everybody spooked. It’s, What is this data piece going to look like? The state is moving forward on it, and that is going to be a big question for us moving forward.”

The “data piece” is student performance. In 2017, when the new evaluation system is fully implemented, 20-percent of a teacher’s evaluation will be based on so called “student data.” In 2018, 30-percent. In 2019, 50-percent.

Superintendent Steve Bradshaw has always been skeptical of student assessment. He urged the board, and the evaluation committee members, to remain focused on student growth.

“The key piece to education is to continue to have the kids build their dreams on what they want to become, and how education ties into those dreams. It’s tough to be a dream-builder as a teacher, a principal, or a superintendent, if you’re not looked on in a positive manner.”

Bradshaw said it was important for the board to reach out into the community and set the standard for a good education locally, regardless of what the rest of the world is doing. Or, he said, “it could get really ugly in 2019.”

Board member Tim Fulton agreed. “Let’s not chase the data piece,” he said, “and lose the rest of it.”

The evaluation program is called iObservation, and offers two different approaches to teacher evaluation, based on the work of Robert Marzano and Charlotte Danielson.

The committee has opted to go with the Marzano model, which they agreed would best suit the Sitka district. Robyn Taylor did a sample evaluation for the board, and demonstrated the dozens of criteria that teachers will be checked off on. She said that she had worked with one teacher in Blatchley who responded favorably to the new approach.

But Taylor also said that it’s unfair — when students don’t succeed — to point fingers exclusively at classroom teachers.

“There are so many factors outside of that 8-hour day school window that we can’t control. We don’t know how many kids are going home and the 6th grade sibling is the caregiver, having to make sure their younger siblings are fed and bathed, and put in bed. They may not have time to sit down and read that book for even twenty minutes.”

Taylor said implementing the new evaluation method will take time, energy, and money. Board president Lon Garrison wondered aloud if evaluations would change the fundamental duties of school principals. He asked, “Will we have to change our management model?”