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ISD 192 teacher evaluation plan raises concerns

The Farmington School Board approved a new evaluation program for teachers Monday night despite concerns from some board members the program does not meet state requirements, or even adequately measure performance.

All Minnesota districts are required to implement a teacher evaluation plan this year as part of a deal the state made to get a waiver from national No Child Left Behind legislation. State statute requires the evaluation programs base at least 35 percent of the evaluation on student performance.

Farmington’s plan asks teachers to set student learning goals based on test scores and standards in each subject area, but it does not include numerical weighting as any part of the process.

Despite that, superintendent Jay Haugen said he is confident the district’s plan meets the state law.

“If we put a number to it, it’s clearly more than 35 percent,” Haugen told board members Monday. But he said using numbers “shackles us to the past” in a district that has put a focus on innovating in the classroom.

“We want to do things a different way,” Haugen said.

Not all board members were convinced. Laura Beem has been pushing the district to include the 35 percent weighting since the district started talking about the teacher evaluation program in June. She was one of two board members to vote against the plan Monday. Julie Singewald was the other.

“I’m disappointed that our school board doesn’t feel it’s important to hold the district accountable for student achievement,” Beem said Tuesday. “I think that we send a message to our community and our students that innovation is more important than the law.”

Beem sees that as part of larger lack of accountability in the district. She is unhappy she has not yet seen a budget for the district’s new Gateway Academy, nor plans to evaluate whether the new approach to teaching is successful.

“I think the school board has not done a good job of holding the district accountable for performance,” Beem said. “I think we need to raise the level of performance in the district. I think that’s what the innovation is trying to achieve. But if we don’t ever set goals and measure it, how will we know?”

But Barb Duffrin, the district’s director of educational programs, said evaluating a teacher is more complicated than adding up some numbers and putting a score at the end of the row. She said the evaluation plan the district has developed looks at the bigger picture of what it takes for a teacher to be successful. And she believes the system lays out the results of those evaluations in a way that can hold a teacher accountable even without a single number score.

“If you look at all the components … you would see that we’re talking about growth goals,” Duffrin said. “You would be able to see the student engagement rubric. If you look at that comprehensively, you would know the kind of conversation we’re having with teachers.

“I feel good about it.”

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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