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August 04. 2013 9:09PM

Nashua schools eye new way to rate teacher performance

NASHUA — With the Nashua teachers contract due to expire Aug. 31, union leaders and school district officials are negotiating details on raises and health care benefits. But one part of the current contract that will carry over temporarily is the system of teacher evaluations.

Nashua's Board of Education is currently designing a new process to evaluate teachers; members of the teachers union have two subcommittees reviewing methods of assessing teacher performance.

Earlier this year, state legislators updated a 2011 law requiring school districts to have teacher evaluation systems, adding a clause that required teachers and principals to be involved in creating the policies.

"The union and the administration are working together on this," said Robert Sherman, president of the Nashua Teachers Union. "Teachers will be part of this; they will be at the table."

New Hampshire recently received a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law. School districts that receive federal educational funding must put in place an evaluation system that uses student achievement as 20 percent of the overall assessment of each teacher. Although standardized test scores are the traditional way to gauge student performance, districts can choose their own measures. School districts have until 2015 to design new teacher assessments.

"Nashua will be using the form currently in place while we come up with a plan more closely aligned with what the district wants to accomplish," Sherman said.

Nashua's current teacher contract, signed in 2011, outlines an evaluation system that involves a supervisor observing a teacher at work in a classroom. Supervisors incorporate their observations into a written evaluation that is shown to the teacher and kept on file.

"What we want is less of an evaluation and more of a dialogue," said Board of Education member Steven Haas, a member of the Human Resources Subcommittee looking at alternative ways to assess effective teaching.

Teachers and BOE members involved in overhauling the evaluation system have been looking at a series of shorter classroom visits that would give a supervisor a better sense of a teacher's strengths and needs.

Haas said the Human Resources Subcommittee is looking at creating a rubric that would focus on a dozen essential qualities of effective teaching, such as student engagement.

However, Haas stressed that evaluations are meant to be starting points for improvement and professional growth rather than for punitive actions or preludes to layoffs.

"If a teacher has problems, or needs improvement, we need to give them the tools and support to improve and succeed," he said.

Laura Hainey, president of the American Federation of Teachers' New Hampshire Chapter, which represents the Nashua Teachers Union, said that teachers recognize the benefits of evaluations.

"Most teachers want feedback," she said.

Hainey said the problem has been that some evaluation approaches have been punitive or subjective. Limited observation times can fail to capture the strengths and talents of teachers, Hainey said.

"It's important that people who evaluate teachers have appropriate and specific training," she said.

Hainey said having teachers and administrators participate in setting the standards is a reasonable start.

"It will be interesting to see school districts going through the process," she said.

btaormina@newstote.com


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