Common Core Drives Reforms in Content, Testing, and Teacher Evaluation

I thought I would mention some of the changes that are coming the way of public schools in time for the opening of the next school year. The press has spotlighted new legislation about tenure laws, but in fact new rules about tenure actually changed the entire way that all teachers, regardless of experience level, will be evaluated. Most of the districts in New Jersey have selected a teacher evaluation model from a handful preapproved by the state. These models use a rubric that delineates four levels of performance for, in the case of Millburn’s selected model, sixty rows of topics sorted out by six general domains. This is quite the report card!

The new rules call for more observations of classroom instruction and more than one evaluator. This is only part of the evaluation process of teachers; another component will reflect the academic growth of students in a teacher’s classroom within one academic year in a format that is expected to be explained by state officials in March.

What does this mean for us, and for other schools? In order to demonstrate that students are indeed growing, teachers will have to create many assessments, using pre-and post-testing, that measure growth within smaller units. They have to measure cumulative learning, such as with midpoint and endpoint assessments. It also means that teachers must teach the same content and use the same assessments as their grade level department colleagues. It means that standardized tests tied to the standardization of the curriculum will have greater relevance in the evaluation of teachers, especially if a teacher’s effectiveness rating depends on the performance of his/her students on the test.

At the same time that this new teacher assessment process is set to begin, our district is also expected to implement the national Common Core state standards. Since these are nationally adopted, or “common,” all of the districts in states that have adopted them will be selecting materials to implement the Common Core curriculum next year.

The vast majority of states have complied with the national movement to embrace a common set of expectations, and the implementation of the Common Core will change what is taught as well as when. One example of change is the move away from reading and interpreting fiction to adding more nonfiction. One way we prepared for this change last year was to purchase a sixth grade anthology that provided additional nonfiction passages. Another example of change is in the area of mathematics. Sixth graders are expected to learn higher level math including abstract algebra and geometry concepts traditionally taught in high middle level grades. Our math curriculum has already made adjustments by moving upper grade level work to fifth, sixth, and seventh grades.

Stay tuned for more information about how our school will need to adopt new curriculum and assessment materials, gather data to document student (and teacher) performance, and adapt to what will certainly be an era of change in how we “do” school.

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