Vermont Principals Weigh in on Teacher Evaluations

The Senate Education Committee heard Jay Nichols (Executive Director, Vermont Principals' Association) on Friday afternoon. Chairman Campion introduced Nichols and reiterated they are looking for general description of the typical process in use around Vermont.

Nichols acknowledged that there is no statewide system or guidance in place that must be followed, while there are many similarities across different districts, there is not set standard. After talking with a couple dozen of his principals, he narrowed in on a set of best practices.

Almost all are differentiated as novice versus veteran teachers often according to negotiated contract provisions. Novice may simply mean a new-to-Vermont teacher, however all of these teachers are on a two-year probationary period according to Vermont statute. The period allows for dismissal with reason or cause, non-discriminatory reasons, or reasons for deficiency.

A veteran teacher can only be dismissed under a “Just Cause Standard” and they have recourse to the courts and arbitration is contractual and they are more likely to win, especially if they are past the two years. Nichols says he advises Principals to let teachers go before two years if they are falling short of basic performance.

However, malfeasance and misconduct are different and easier to terminate and he praises VT-NEA for being supportive in these instances. Insubordination cases are also not too difficult, while performance dismissals are difficult and require solid documentation, attempts at reform and supports in order to improve.

Apparently, the Gates Foundation spent millions of dollars and could not find a definitive link between teacher performance and student outcomes (there were likely too many compounding factors). These results are of interest and likely point back to home life, income, involvement and reading at home, and education levels of parents as still more indicative of student outcomes.

Nichols stressed they advocate for the “what works” model, which he and most principals agree is: regular walk throughs that are unannounced, informal observations and quick feedback on practice, formal observations scheduled following a lesson plan evaluation. All these are pretty effective for newer teachers as they learn the ropes.

Veteran teachers should still have evaluations every 3-5 years in a cycle of walk throughs with an evaluation report at the end of year. Supportive and collaborative coaching shows strong results for teachers, while also excellent for remedial supports along with proving videos and additional peer support for struggling teachers.

Senator Weeks asked about cameras in classrooms. The VT-NEA opposes them because of possible abuse, but Nichols agrees these should be considered and supports them.

Campion asked if he has seen any teachers that made the two years and were green lighted but shouldn’t have? Nichols indicated that he had.

Campion asked about whether the state has ever pursued a statewide standard. Nichols pointed to a Teach Effectiveness Guideline and it “sits on a shelf” but is available on the AOE website. Evaluations against this guide are required by licensure rules with regards to dismissals but there is no set process around how to evaluate those guidelines.

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