Teacher evaluations won't just be based on classroom observations, starting in the 2013-14 school year.

Lawmakers recently approved a bill that will kick off a new evaluation method that takes into account student performance.

The evaluations have been in a pilot mode the past two years, with Dover, Northeastern, Red Lion and York City participating in the past year. More districts statewide will participate in a last pilot phase before the full rollout in 2013-14, according to Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller.

It's a major change in procedure that both lawmakers and the state teachers' union say should give much more useful feedback to teachers who need help while also better reflecting the increased use of data in classrooms.

Under the new law, a teacher will be evaluated in two parts: Half on the traditional, classroom observation model, and half on student performance on state tests and district tests and classroom work.

The previous method of solely using observation didn't fairly judge teachers' effectiveness or pinpoint problem areas, Eller said. Nearly 100 percent of teachers in the 2009-10 school year were ranked "satisfactory" in evaluations, despite state test scores leaving much to be desired.

And since the state education code only allows a district to pursue termination of a poorly performing teacher if he or she has two unsatisfactory ratings in a row, there was little opportunity to weed out ineffective teachers or help them improve, lawmakers said.


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Reaction: State Rep. Eugene DePasquale, D-York City, said he had to give credit to Republican Governor Tom Corbett for pursuing the new system DePasquale thinks is a measurable improvement.

"It isn't assuming every teacher is a failure,

either," he said. "I think a vast majority of teachers are doing the best they can."

And if a teacher does struggle, the new system is much better at providing the tools to improve, DePasquale said.

Rep. Ron Miller, R-Jacobus, said observations alone can't provide an adequate evaluation unless they are constant, and that's not feasible.

Using data helps fix that, since school officials will be able to account for how individual students grow throughout the year and whether they met or exceeded expected growth.

Miller said he thinks the new system is a step toward eventually getting teacher salaries based on performance rather than the traditional levels of experience and degrees attained.

"We need to pay people who do a great job a better salary than those who do an adequate job," Miller said.

Merit pay? The Pennsylvania State Education Association, which supports the new evaluations, wouldn't be supportive of such a merit pay idea, said spokesman David Broderic.

But the idea of helping teachers improve by giving them better feedback is useful, he said. PSEA in particular was pleased that multiple measures of data will be used instead of just high-stakes state tests.

Red Lion Superintendent Scott Deisley said he likes the idea of having more ways to evaluate a teacher, but he wasn't pleased the state was constantly changing the system throughout the past year. That's why Red Lion won't participate in the final phase of the pilot program, he said.

And it's still not certain how the new evaluations will work for teachers that don't have subjects or grades with heavy state testing, like grades K-2 or music.

"It's really hard to use student data for areas like art, phys ed, those kinds of things," Deisley said. "There's a lot of intangibles going into that."

-- Reach Andrew Shaw at ashaw@yorkdispatch.com