Last year, Colonial School District and 13 other Delaware charter schools used the little-known flexibility in Delaware law (see 1270f) to ditch the state’s teacher evaluation system (DPAS-II) and create their own system. Early reports on these systems suggest that educators are happier with a system they worked with their district and schools to create. Most of these systems give teachers more frequent feedback, reduce the burden of paperwork, and save administrators time.

With the early success of these locally-controlled systems, it is unclear why the Delaware legislature is seeking to mandate a new top-down, clunky evaluation system be piloted in 3 Delaware districts through House Bill 399. Instead of studying how the existing locally-designed systems are working, the legislature is mandating a new pilot and requiring the state spend scarce resources to study whether the pilot worked.

Almost everything House Bill 399 is seeking to mandate can already be done under existing law. This makes me wonder if any of this is really about what is best for students and for educator professional growth. Perhaps this is really about scoring political points during an election season. Perhaps it is legislators’ faulty belief that a heavy-handed law is more likely to improve teacher evaluation in Delaware than a locally-developed approach. Or perhaps policymakers are operating based on pervasive myths about teacher evaluation in Delaware.

Just in case the latter is true, I have started to compile a list of myths and facts about teacher evaluation in Delaware. I’ll continue to update this as I hear myths shared during the HB399 conversation. Unfortunately, I suspect information and truth will not be a major factor in this process. But here goes….

Myth #1: State test scores weigh too heavily in teachers’ evaluation ratings in Delaware.

75% of Delaware educators (specialists and those teaching in non-tested grades/subjects) do not have state test scores included in their evaluations at all
. Unlike in other many other states, student growth predictions (that account for where students start) on the state test have very little weight in Delaware teachers’ evaluations. As a result, only about 100 educators across the entire state (out of around 10,500 educators) were rated “Unsatisfactory” on the Student Improvement/Growth component.

Example: In 2013-14
, 366 educators (out of around 3000) were rated “Unsatisfactory” (meaning less than 35% of their students met their predicted growth targets in Math and English) across the whole state based on the state assessment.  

Of these 366 educators, only 8% (29 people) were also rated “Unsatisfactory” on the other measure of student growth (based on goals for student growth set by the teacher) that determines their final Student Improvement Component Rating. You would need to be Unsatisfactory on both measures to get an Unsatisfactory rating for the Student Improvement component. If they were rated Unsatisfactory based on the state test and Satisfactory on their goals (31% were) their principal has the discretion to rate them either Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory. In 85 percent of these instances, administrators opted to upgrade an educator’s rating to “Satisfactory.”

Myth #2: The changes to the Delaware Performance Appraisal System- Two (DPAS-II) have made Delaware’s educator evaluation system “high stakes” and people are losing their jobs.

Around 6000 Delaware educators received evaluation ratings last year and only about 120 were rated “Needs Improvement” or “Ineffective.” The system as currently implemented has very few stakes (rewards or repercussions) as a result of educators’ evaluation ratings. An educator rated “Needs Improvement” or “Ineffective” would be put on an “improvement plan” but would need to have such ratings for at least 2-3 consecutive years in order to lose their job. Even then, a school board could opt not to terminate an educator’s employment based on their “pattern of ineffective teaching.”

Most Delaware districts and schools also opt not to attach any “positive consequences” to teachers’ evaluation ratings. Meanwhile, 14 out of 19 Delaware district personnel directors noted that they use DPAS-II ratings to identify their best teachers in a recent survey.

In Delaware’s evaluation system the lowest percent of teachers rated below proficient compared to other states (see below).

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Myth #3: All these changes to Delaware’s educator evaluation system are because the state won $119 million through the federal Race to the Top competition. We included student test scores in teacher evaluation because of a federal mandate.

Delaware has had a statewide educator evaluation system (the Delaware Performance Appraisal System or “DPAS”) in place since the 1980s and has shown a long-standing interest in including student growth in teachers’ evaluations. In 2001, then-Governor Carper signed the Professional Development and Educator Accountability Act which added the requirement that student achievement should also be used as a measure of teachers’ effectiveness. The coalition of leaders and legislators that supported this idea almost a decade before Race to the Top believed that as we increase supports for Delaware educators and spend millions in professional development, we should also have accountability and a clear understanding of which teachers were struggling to help students improve.

DPAS was revised to form “DPAS-II or DPAS- Two” and was piloted in 2005-2006 based on feedback from educators. It was ultimately launched statewide in 2008. In 2009 the state adopted regulations to incorporate student growth measures into DPAS-II and to require a teacher’s students to make at least a year’s growth in order for a teacher to be rated “effective” or better. In 2010, the Delaware legislature and Governor Jack Markell passed SB 263, which links teacher tenure to DPAS II evaluations.

Myth #4: All these efforts to rate teachers are just about scapegoating teachers for problems with schools and student learning.

Delaware’s has evaluation systems for principals, assistant principals, and district leaders. All of the systems currently require measures of student growth to be included in administrators’ evaluations as well. The state also has an accountability system for schools that includes growth on the state assessment.

Myth #5: Teacher evaluation in Delaware is all about evaluation and accountability and not about supporting teachers.  

73 percent of teachers responding to a recent survey about Delaware’s teacher evaluation system said “my evaluator provides specific and actionable feedback about ways to improve my instructional practice.”

The state also spent millions during Race to the Top on teacher development and to improve its teacher evaluation system. For example, University of Delaware received millions of dollars during Race To the Top to provide Delaware principals with experienced coaches (Delaware’s current Secretary of Ed was one of those coaches, for example) that would help them get better at observing an educator’s teaching and provide actionable feedback.

Delaware was highlighted in a national report recently as a leading state for its efforts to make its teacher evaluation system a tool for professional growth. Another national report also highlighted some of Delaware’s work to ensure a high-quality evaluation and professional growth system. 


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