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Bill seeks to reduce frequency of R.I. teacher evaluations

Legislation could save administrative time by eliminating unnecessary reports on top teachers

A new teacher evaluation bill introduced by Rep. William O’Brien, D-North Providence, could spell the end of annual assessments of teachers in Rhode Island.

Under the new system proposed by O’Brien, only teachers with poor efficacy ratings would be evaluated yearly. Teachers deemed “highly effective” would be evaluated only every four years, while teachers assessed as “effective” would be evaluated every three years.

Rhode Island’s current annual evaluation system was implemented by Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist in 2009 due to a “teacher problem in the state,” said O’Brien, who disagrees with the diagnosis.

The teacher evaluation system was one of several factors that helped Rhode Island win $75 million in 2010 from the federal government through the annual Race to the Top contest implemented by President Obama.

But the current system has generated controversy and has been viewed as punitive by many teachers and principals in the state, according to a recent report by the Community Training and Assistance Center, a national education organization.

Under the annual evaluation system, teachers who are evaluated as ineffective for five consecutive years lose certification to teach in Rhode Island, the Providence Journal reported.

Principals currently must evaluate teachers three times each year — twice informally and once formally, O’Brien said, adding that there is a substantial amount of paperwork, as well as  a conference before and after the evaluation process.  The entire process takes five to 10 hours per year, a significant amount of time that “is taking away from the principal running his or her school and affecting education in the state,” O’Brien said.

Teacher evaluations can take from 1,000 to 1,500 hours total for each principal, O’Brien said. By changing the evaluation system, principals would be able to do their job more efficiently, he added.

O’Brien, a math teacher at Hope High School in Providence, said his other main concern with the present evaluation system is that it takes away from students’ educations.

“The bill still says you can evaluate a teacher the principal deemed ineffective, but gives power to the people running the schools,” O’Brien said, adding that time spent evaluating teachers already assessed as highly efficient limits principals’ ability to help teachers who need to improve their performance.

“It’s taking away from the education of the children of the state. The main point is that principals need to run their schools and (the state) needs to trust them,” O’Brien said.

The evaluations are also costly for the state to administer, O’Brien said. Approximately 200 extra employees have been hired to deal with the increased paperwork of yearly assessments costing between $2-3 million, O’Brien said.

O’Brien said there has been virtually no opposition to the bill. “The principals’ association seems to be for it,” O’Brien said, adding that principals across the state have already requested similar changes to the evaluation system.

O’Brien’s bill has been referred to the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare.



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