HARTFORD, Conn. — For the first time, students' academic progress will soon be a substantial factor in evaluating the skills of Connecticut's 50,000-plus public school teachers and principals.
The state Board of Education on Friday unanimously endorsed guidelines for those performance evaluations, a key step in its request for a waiver from some No Child Left Behind law mandates — and also in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's proposal to reform tenure to make it easier for districts to dismiss inept teachers.
The framework was the result of an advisory council's work, and will go now to another advisory group to work out details on how the specifics would be put into practice. That includes recommending whether teachers labeled as substandard could keep teaching while trying to improve, and the point at which districts may want to start dismissal proceedings.
Connecticut teachers automatically receive tenure after their fourth year in the profession, and it can be revoked only under very specific circumstances and after a long process of hearings.
Critics say that allows inept or burned-out educators to keep their jobs at the expense of children who need strong teachers, and at the expense of a system in which the achievement gap keeps growing between wealthy and poor children.
Representatives of the state's two largest teachers' unions were part of the committee that endorsed the framework for the state board's consideration. They have said they support reforming tenure and updating evaluations — as long as the evaluations are fair, consistent, delivered by supervisors well-trained in evaluation methods, and include chances to improve.
Connecticut Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor told state school board members Friday that he, too, views the new evaluation framework as more than a way of separating the best teachers from the worst. He said it's important to view the evaluations as a map to help struggling teachers improve.
"I aim to refer to the system every time I refer to it as an 'evaluation and support' system. I think we need to phrase it that way and mean it," he said. "The point of an evaluation system is not evaluation for evaluation's sake. It's not 'gotcha.'
"The point of the system is to enable professionals to improve their practice, so it's critical that the support infrastructure, professional development and training offered (would) be geared toward remedying those needs that are identified," he said.
Local districts would be able to either adopt the guidelines and use them for their own evaluations, or use them as a model when they create or update their own evaluations. Students' academic progress always would have to be significant a factor, though.
Although the teacher unions' leaders have endorsed the framework, some of their members still are worried about how it'll work in practice, especially for teachers whose students have no preschool and enter kindergarten significantly behind children in more wealthy districts.
Andrea Johnson, president of the Hartford Federation of Teachers, said the framework seems to assume that all districts are equal in the challenges that their students face and the expectations of how they will progress.
But she said it's not a level playing field for teachers who would be judged by the performance of children whose families' poverty has put them at a disadvantage, and who need time and special attention to catch up.
"Let's make the way we judge the teachers fair and equitable for all of the teachers," Johnson said.
The framework envisions evaluations in which 45 percent of a teacher's or principal's rating would be based on students' performance in standardized tests or other indicators that the district might determine locally.
Another 40 percent would reflect their daily performance and professional practices, such as classroom planning and leadership skills. The rest would reflect feedback from peers, parents and students.
They would be rated either as exemplary, proficient, developing or below standard — and those below standard would have to either improve or would be in jeopardy of losing their jobs.