Boston tested out the new system last school year at 11 schools, including the Blackstone. The experiment revealed a largely well-skilled teaching force at those schools. Of the 527 teachers evaluated last year, 12 percent received an overall rating of exemplary; 77 percent were proficient; 9 percent, needs improvement; and 1 percent, unsatisfactory.
At the Blackstone, principal Cynthia Paris-Jeffries’ makes it abundantly clear she sees the evaluations as a top priority for her school of 600 children. She has “wallpapered” her office with printouts on the criteria for assessing teachers and examples of best practices evaluators should observe, such as well-structured lessons and instruction tailored to meet the individual needs of each student.
The evaluators also draw blocks next to a teacher’s name on a sheet of paper that hangs in Paris-Jeffries office for each completed observation. They place a plastic block in a big clear bowl next to the principal’s desk — giving an overall numerical tally of the observations conducted so far for all teachers. On Friday, a note on the bowl read 320.
“We are pretty aggressive about it,” Paris-Jeffries said. “Our biggest leverage is to improve teacher performance, which in turn will improve student achievement.”
One of the biggest challenges of the system, Paris-Jeffries said, is finding constructive feedback for teachers who excel at their craft.
Sangalang already knew that Lineweaver would be dropping by on a recent afternoon to observe the math lesson. Lineweaver arrived shortly after the students came back from lunch, and quietly took a seat at a table in the back of the classroom and opened up her laptop.
The lesson — multiplying decimals — was already in progress.
Lineweaver was an active observer, nodding her head several times as Sangalang explained the lesson. She also circulated among the students to quiz their comprehension.
It was during these exchanges with students that Lineweaver noticed they were struggling with the decimals. She shared her observations briefly with Sangalang, who agreed and said she was planning to work with them in small groups.
Later in her office, Lineweaver combed through more than 5½ pages of notes from the 45-minute observation, as she wrote a “rapid response memo.” She highlighted two positives: articulating a clear goal for the lesson and repeatedly checking for student understanding.
She also asked for an update on the small groups. Sangalang provided it the next day — along with a confession.
“I didn’t do the small groups because it was 2:30,” Sangalang said. “They were struggling in a good way, but we were fried. So I switched gears and came back to it today. The math coach was here, and a City Year volunteer was here too. . . . They’re definitely closer to understanding it.’’
“I think you make the right call,” Lineweaver said.