The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

June 9, 2014

Most districts ready to evaluate new teachers

As the school year ends for students, Minnesota’s school districts are the ones with a big summer homework assignment ahead of them.

Districts need to have a new system for evaluating new teachers in place by fall. Most of the state’s 333 school districts are ready to implement the new evaluations when the school year starts. But it’s unclear if all will meet the deadline because some are still developing their plans.

“Roughly three-fourths of our school districts have plans ready to go,” said Denise Specht, president of the state teachers union Education Minnesota. The rest have work to do.

“School districts are right now ‘MacGyvering’ what they’ve got to fit the law,” she said.

In 2011, lawmakers revamped Minnesota’s teacher evaluation law to overhaul the old system, in which some teachers went a decade or longer without receiving proper feedback on their work.

Under the new law, new teachers will be given formal evaluations each year for three years. They’ll also meet on a regular basis with veteran teachers.

Experienced teachers will receive a formal evaluation once every three years.

A teacher’s performance will be based on how well their students are doing academically and how well they handle a classroom, based on observations by administrators and other teachers.

The law requires districts to develop evaluation systems with their local teachers unions. They need to be approved by both union members and school boards before Sept. 1.

One option for districts is to use an evaluation model developed by state education officials. This school year, 17 Minnesota districts tried using some or all of the state model.

Among them was the Caledonia district in southeastern Minnesota, which received a $70,000 state Department of Education grant to test the system.

Supt. Ben Barton said the new system was a big improvement over the previous one, which only required districts to evaluate new teachers during their first three years on the job.

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