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Inside Mississippi Teacher Evaluations

By Annie Gilbertson | Published 24 Feb 2012 10:55am | comments
All Mississippi teachers are poised to come under the new evaluation system. Photo by Mike Brown, The Commercial Appeal, Associated Press.

Mississippi applied for a waiver to many of the provisions under the federal No Child Left Behind law. But the Obama Administration is asking for several things in return – one of them is teacher evaluations. A handful of public schools across the state are piloting Mississippi’s new teacher evaluation system, soon to be duplicated in more than one thousand schools. It’s single system that will analyze the performance of all types of teachers.

At Magee Middle School in Magee, Mississippi, Joycelyn Blackwell knows there are many ways to teach science, but today she’s using multimedia to review the process of eyesight with students. The video shifts between graphics and multiple choice questions.  Blackwelll pauses and every student holds up a card with their answer on it.

While there are many ways for educators to introduce curriculum to students,  the creators of teacher evaluations insist the  most effective lessons have similar principles.  Teacher action evaluation systems layout principles on a rubric, or a type of spreadsheet that guides grading. The Mississippi Statewide Teacher Appraisal Rubric, or MStar for short, outlines instruction principles such as actively engaging students in the learning process and using questioning and discussion techniques to promote higher order thinking skills .

Sharonda Jones is a Master Teacher and is tasked with evaluating the actions of Blackwell and other teachers at Magee Middle School.

Jones: "Also [Blackwell] was bringing in the differentiated instruction. She was utilizing the textbook. She was utilizing visual aid through the video, showing pictures along with the questions.”

Jones writes notes like this on her blank observation sheet.   She’s been trained in the rubric so she knows what she’s looking for without having a spreadsheet in front of her. Each teacher action evaluation requires both scheduled and surprise class visits plus an analysis of prep work such as lesson plans and conferences with the teacher. Jones says conferences help administrators gain context for what they are observing.

Jones: ”So it helps for that teacher to be able to have that pre-conference and say ok this is what we’ve done so far. So it kind of gives the administrator more insight, but it also kind of makes the teacher be at ease.”

But according to Mississippi’s application for a No Child Left Behind waiver, teacher action only makes up half of the overall evaluation rating: the other half is student performance on state tests.  That’s calculated in two ways. The first way measures what the teacher added to each individual students’ knowledge. So it matters less if kids are entering the class behind grade level and matters more that students progress in knowledge and skill in comparison to where they were the previous year. The second calculation is an offshoot of No Child Left Behind, measuring whether students are performing on grade level.  So it’s important for teachers to produce average or high-achieving students no matter how far behind they once were.

Kevin Gilbert, head of the Mississippi Association of Educators – the state’s national teacher union affiliate – says factoring in test scores could put good teachers in chronically underperforming schools at a disadvantage especially since these evaluations will be tied to pay and pink  slips.

Gilbert: “But they also don’t know much about it, because right now it is only being piloted."

Mississippi’s evaluation process, alongside many new education policies, is currently being reviewed by the federal government.  There is a revision period, but the final system will be adapted before the end of the school year.

From the Southern Education Desk, for MPB News, I'm Annie Gilbertson.

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All Mississippi teachers are poised to come under the new evaluation system. Photo by Mike Brown, The Commercial Appeal, Associated Press.


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