A new test is coming for some Naperville teachers, but the grade won't count just yet.
Roughly 30 teachers at 12 schools in Naperville Unit District 203 will be evaluated next school year based partially on student growth as the district tests how to officially incorporate pupil performance into educator reviews beginning in 2016-17.
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Since it is only a test of a future evaluation procedure, how the teachers fare in terms of student performance won't factor into their real reviews next year.
"It doesn't have any ramifications right now other than we want to experiment with it and we want to make sure we get it right," said Mark Bailey, president of the Naperville Unit Education Association. "We want to make sure the system that's in place is fair to students, number one, and also fair to the staff."
The test will help determine what works for teachers and students as District 203 moves to meet a state deadline that requires student performance to be considered as part of teacher evaluations beginning in two years.
"We're looking to get feedback on implementing this according to the law -- how we think this will impact teaching and learning," Deputy Superintendent Kaine Osburn said.
The test will help choose the assessments students will take to measure their growth and the way targets should be set to quantify what counts as an acceptable amount of progress, Osburn said.
In one model of setting growth targets, teachers and their reviewers will work together to determine the benchmarks, and in another, statistical analysis will be used. The district has entered into a $68,000 agreement with Rosemont-based Educational Consultants & Research Associates for help developing best practices for both target-setting models.
"Part of the concern for teachers is not taking just a snapshot, in other words a high-stakes test that's just given once a year or twice a year that is going to supposedly encapsulate what a student has learned," said Bailey, the teachers union president. "True growth in a student should be an ongoing process and an ongoing assessment."
Teachers currently are evaluated 100 percent based on observation and evaluation of their practice in the classroom, as judged by a principal, assistant principal or instructional coordinator for their department, Osburn said. They can fall into categories of excellent, proficient, needs improvement or unsatisfactory, using a scale the district adopted two years ago.
Observation of teacher practice will continue to factor into educator assessments, and the test next year will help a committee of teachers and administrators determine the weight each component should have in the future. Osburn said the weighting will default to 50 percent observation of teacher practice and 50 percent student growth if teachers and administrators cannot agree on a different balance.
Bailey said the committee has been working collaboratively, striving to find the best way to implement the required changes.
"Everyone wants to get it right," Bailey said. "We want to get it right more for the students than for anybody else."
Even when student growth factors officially into teacher reviews, Bailey said this won't be a huge departure from the norms in the district, as student learning always has been a significant factor in what makes a successful teacher.
"If students weren't progressing when you were teaching before, certainly there were going to be discussions about teacher performance," Bailey said.
Ratings on performance reviews are important because they determine a teacher's place on the retention list that is used if the district needs to conduct layoffs. Next year for the first time, reviews in District 203 will be documented using a $53,000 yearlong subscription to an online system called TalentEd.
"That will streamline the process of teacher evaluation. Right now it's all paper, essentially, and this will be automated electronically," Osburn said. "The reason that's so important is that now we'll be able to focus on the actual human interaction that's essential to teacher evaluation being successful."