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State rolls out teacher evaluation system

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Educators across West Virginia are going to spend the summer preparing for a new method of evaluating teachers.

State lawmakers established the method last year when they singled out an education evaluation pilot project for widespread adoption. When the new system is put into place statewide this fall, it will mean that all teachers, even longtime educators, will be evaluated annually.

The pilot was initiated two years ago with 25 schools and then tweaked and expanded to 136 schools last year.  Now it's being expanded to all the state's schools - a massive overhaul of the procedures used to evaluate educators.

Emily Papadopoulos, director of professional programs at the West Virginia Center for Professional Development, described the new system as an effort to create a "feedback loop" between educators.

The new evaluation system provides for a number of observations and conferences between teachers and principals; it also uses data and standardized test scores to gauge student achievement and, by proxy, teachers' effectiveness.

"There are some great outcomes that come from the process," Papadopoulos said. "But what we hope comes from it is really improvement to teachers and therefore to students."

Principals are in charge of performing the evaluations. For their training, all of the state's principals are flocking to a dozen professional development sessions being held throughout the state.

They're learning how to navigate an involved evaluation system, complete with a technological component, but the new system also deals with a common foil of education reform - the question of how to standardize things as objective as teachers' effectiveness.

The evaluation system's emphasis is on conversations between teachers and principals, with data given some weight to add an objective measure.

In training principals to evaluate their teachers, Papadopoulos said a lot of the emphasis is on "courageous conversations," and helping principals understand that teachers need positive feedback, too - just like students.

"All the collective conversations that the system calls for, I'm sure there were folks who were doing that and doing it well before," said Pam Gould, principal at Watts Elementary. "But this is explicit in that it's about that - it forces collaboration."

Gould and Watts Elementary, on Charleston's West Side, were part of the pilot project's second wave of implementation. She's been largely happy with the system as she's worked with it this year.

There's been murmuring in the education community about the extra workload an intricate evaluation system would put on principals. But Gould brushed aside the notion that the prescribed conversations with teachers could be seen as anything but useful for professional educators.

"It was work and time well spent," she said. "It really is focused on students and learning, so every conversation that we had was useful."

Dixie Billheimer, CEO of the Center of Professional Development, touted the system as a way for principals to stay involved in the classroom - principals are given responsibility for their teachers' and students' performance, and this gives them a hand in effecting those outcomes.

"We always talk about the principals being the instructional leaders in the school," she said. "I think this is a way for them to actually do that."

Contact writer Shay Maunz at shay.maunz@dailymail.com or 304-348-4886.

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