11 “Developing” Teachers Face Possible Removal

Twenty-nine teachers may lose their jobs at the end of the school year as the district’s new teacher evaluation system moves to a new phase: Pushing out not just lowest-performing teachers, but those who failed to improve to “effective” over three years.

The 29 teachers who face possible removal include 18 who were rated “needs improvement,” a 1 on a 5-point scale. The group also includes 11 teachers in a new category: those who failed to score above a 2 (“developing”) for three years in a row and were deemed “not on track” to improve.

Non-tenured teachers are set to find out in meetings with supervisors as soon as next week if they face possible termination for poor performance. The early “non-renewal” warning is required by state law before May 1; however, the district gives teachers until the end of the school year to show enough improvement to keep their jobs.

The tense conversations come as a new phase begins for the city’s nascent teacher evaluation program, which in 2010 became one of the first in the nation to grade teachers based in part on student performance, including test scores.

Thomas MacMillan File Photo“We are no longer talking about separating from those who are egregiously bad, but those who are not on track to be ‘effective,’” said Garth Harries, the assistant superintendent in charge of reform. “We are trying to say, ‘Our kids deserve a very effective teacher.’”

“Not every basketball player can be All-American, but if you’re on the team, you have to have a certain level of competency,” said teachers union President Dave Cicarella.

Cicarella said the school system is being “fairly judicious” about which teachers it has flagged for possible termination. Scores with consequences are validated by outside auditors.

Principals and assistant principals also face a new grading system that mirrors the one for teachers. Their scores don’t get validated, so principals don’t have the same early notification process, Harries said. But “we’ve been aggressive about the evaluations of developing administrators from the start. Several of our separated administrators from prior years fell into that category, and that pattern is likely to repeat.”

The new evaluation system grades teachers on a five-point scale based on three categories: student performance, based on teacher-set goals that include test scores; and professional values and instructional practice, based on classroom observations. The new system aims to help teachers improve through formal goal-setting, more classroom observations, mandatory sit-downs with supervisors to discuss the teaching craft, and added training for teachers who struggle. It also makes it far easier to fire tenured teachers when they fail to show improvement.

Melissa Bailey File PhotoThe ratings carry the following descriptions: 1 for “needs improvement,” 2 for “developing, 3 for “effective,” 4 for “strong” and 5 for “exemplary.”

Unlike many other states and school districts adopting their own versions of reform, New Haven doesn’t use algorithms to crunch demographic data and test scores to determine the “value” teachers add to their kids. Instead, teachers set their own goals for student learning based only partly on standardized tests. The system is seen as softer than the “value-added” teacher evaluation models taking hold in cities like Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and New York. New Haven has earned praise for pushing out tenured teachers for poor performance; helping others improve; and doing so in a manner that union leadership considers reasonable and fair.

So far, consequences have kicked in for only the lowest-performing 2 percent of the workforce. The new system warns returning teachers in November if they are on track to score a 1, gives them support, then calls for them to be fired at the end of the year if they fail to show improvement. In the first two years, 62 teachers, 33 of them tenured, lost their jobs through that process. Many others improved enough to stay employed.

“You Can’t Stay At ‘Developing’ Forever”

Now, in the third year of the evaluation system, new consequences are set to kick in for teachers who are rated a 2, or “developing.” The new grading system requires teachers to improve to the “effective” rating, a 3 on the scale, within three years. Teachers who do not score above a 2 for three years in a row face possible removal.

Here’s how the process works: Every November, returning teachers get early notification if they appear on track to get a high or low scores on the evaluations, based on past performance and classroom observation. For the past three years, the district has issued notifications in November to teachers in the 1 or 5 category. The early notification kicks off an outside validation process and enables the district to impose consequences after only one year. Last November, 18 teachers were a pre-rated as 1s; another 47 got pre-rated as 5s.

Last November, the district also sent notifications to some “developing” teachers. Those teachers had been teaching in New Haven since 2010, had not scored above a 2, and appeared to be still “developing” (a 2 rating) this school year. At mandatory mid-year conferences, supervisors decided whether these “developing” teachers were en route to move up to “effective” by the end of the year. Teachers who showed progress were listed as “on track,” meaning they will hang on to their jobs.

A total of 11 “developing” teachers, eight of them tenured, were placed in a new category called “not on track to be effective,” according to the school district. That means they face possible termination at the end of the year.

If a teacher is rated “developing,” explained union chief Cicarella, it means “you’re not terrible. It’s not like kids are lighting the trashcan on fire.” But “there’s clearly some gaps that have to be addressed. Kids are still learning—it’s just not where teachers need to be.”

In the new system, “you can’t stay at ‘developing’ forever,” Cicarella said.

The goal of the grading system is to ensure that all teachers are “effective.” Though it’s the middle of the five-point scale, it doesn’t mean average, Cicarella said—it denotes a level of competency. “If you’re going to be in the classroom teaching kids, there’s a level of competency you have to have.”

Cicarella said he is pleased with the way the district has handled the new system.

“It’s not usually popular for a union president to say this, but I really think there has been a good effort to be judicious on this,” he said.

Instead of automatically moving to terminate everyone who doesn’t score above a 2 over three years—a process that might lead to grade inflation—the school system is handling each teacher’s case on an individual basis.

Cicarella said the union has made sure principals and assistant principals follow the prescribed process for evaluating teachers. For example, in a handful of cases, the supervisors have failed to sit down with teachers for goal-setting at the beginning of the year. In other cases, supervisors have skipped the required thrice-a-year conferences where they are supposed to check in on teachers’ progress and discuss how to help them improve. In cases where supervisors don’t hold up their end of the bargain, teachers do not get punished, Cicarella said.

Cicarella has pushed the district to hold principals to similar consequences. Principals and assistant principals also get graded based in part on student performance, as well as on how effectively they use the teacher evaluation system to help their staff improve. So far, at least five principals have been pushed out due to poor performance.

So far, no tenured teachers have fought their removal; all agreed to go quietly without filing a labor grievance, according to union and district officials.

Following a national trend towards merit pay, teachers now stand to be rewarded for the first time for high performance on job evaluations: 47 teachers were flagged in November as potential “exemplary”; if a validator confirms that rating at the end of the year, some may be promoted this summer to a master teacher role with additional responsibilities and pay. The promotions are part of a $53 million plan to further develop the way New Haven grades, rewards and recognizes educators. The grant came from the federal government. The application calls for $5,000 bonuses for master teachers and principals; a panel of labor and management is working out the details.

So far, the biggest complaint about the evaluation system is inconsistency of implementation: Depending on who’s doing the grading, and the goals each teacher sets, a teacher may end up with a very different score.

Fired Teacher: Eval “Unfair”

One new teacher who was fired after just one year in the school district called her evaluation “very unfair.”

The teacher, whose first name is Cherylyn, joined Hill Regional Career High School as a science teacher in the fall of 2011 after teaching for one year in Milford. As a first-year teacher New Haven schools, she did not have tenure. She maintained she was not alerted of concerns about her performance until March, when the district issued her a non-renewal notice. Citing concerns about classroom management, her assistant principal put her on an improvement plan for the final three months of school.

“There was information that I disputed that was intended to qualify my performance as very poor,” she said. She said she performed all that was asked of her in her improvement plan. She said she met the student learning goals she set at the beginning of the year in conjunction with her assistant principal, only to be told, “in the 11th hour, suddenly my goals weren’t good.” She was let go at the end of the year. As a non-tenured teacher, she did not have recourse to appeal the decision.

“The process is intended to be used wisely and fairly, but like any process, it can be manipulated,” she said. “I don’t feel like the process was any benefit to me.” She said she has since landed a job in another school district.

Asked about the scenario, Harries later said that unlike returning teachers, first-year teachers don’t get early notification in November of poor performance that may lead to termination. “We don’t want to send a discouraging sign too early,” he said. “We didn’t want, two months into their tenure, to say, ‘We’re going to fire you.’”

Supervisors wait until mid-year conferences to identify first-year teachers in the “needs improvement” category, Harries said.

Harries said in reviewing a case for possible termination, the district examines not just whether a teacher meets her student learning goals, but whether those goals were “appropriate.” In some cases, teachers were given reprieve from goals that were set too high; in others cases, the goals were set too low, he said.

Harries said simply completing the steps laid out in an improvement plan is not enough for a teacher to keep his or her job. “That’s a common misunderstanding.” If a teacher sits through a training session, but does not bring those skills back to the classroom, he said, that “is not sufficient for us [or] for our kids.”

“The steps are designed to help people be better teachers,” Harries said.

“At the end of the day, our obligation is to try and support,” Harries said, “but it’s the teacher’s obligation to improve and be a good teacher.”

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on April 17, 2013  5:33pm

Salem Witch Hunt on teachers.

posted by: Brutus2011 on April 17, 2013  6:59pm

This article needs to be read critically—not in the negative sense of criticizing but in the positive sense of questioning the assertions of those in authority.

For example: Assistant Superintendent Harries is quoted’ “At the end of the the day, our obligation is to try and support,” and “but it’s the teacher’s obligation to improve and be a good teacher.”

It is the administrator’s job to support and not to try and support teachers in their jobs. This is a crucial reason why those above the classroom always endeavor to blame the teacher. And I know that Harries is a lawyer and is not a teacher—need I ask the obvious? I will anyway—what lawyer would want his job dependent upon the evaluation policies of a teacher? (In case you are wondering, I am a teacher and well on my way to be a lawyer and I can tell you that teaching school does not prepare you to be a lawyer and law school does not prepare you to be a teacher.)
Finally, there was a one sentence paragraph in this article that said that all tenured teachers went quietly without filing a dispute or complaint about their “termination.” I will tell you it is because the implicit threat is that if “you go public, you will never teach again.” And the NHFT management goes along with NHPS upper management personnel decisions.

What this means is that the thrust of this article is propaganda to make the rest of us think that NHPS is doing what is necessary to see to it that our kids get the best education possible.

I say that they are shameless reform shills who are primarily interested in protecting their jobs and don’t really care about educating our youth at all.

Harries said, “The steps are designed to help people be better teachers.”

How about taking steps to be accountable for being better managers and administrators?

posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on April 17, 2013  9:03pm

This is a great big Pandora’s box that New Haven has opened that has lead to dangerous and harmful repercussions.
Tying student performance to teacher evaluation has proven to lead to grade inflation and academic dishonesty, that is, cheating, by desperate educators who fear losing their jobs. The kids lose.
Threatening teachers with termination when students fail to work, study and pass those blasted standardized tests will diminish the pool of intelligent and qualified college graduates who may be willing to enter the teaching profession. Four years of college, two or more years of graduate school and your career could be ended forever by a poor evaluation based in part on factors that are often beyond the teachers’ control. What other profession has to endure such evaluation? Many potential teachers will go to charter, private or parochial schools. The students lose.
New Haven teachers should demand a refund of their union dues from their so-called union, because it does nothing to protect their jobs. Several tenured teachers have been terminated as a result of these co-called reforms, but has there been any measurable improvement in student performance?
On day, not today though, we will regret all of this, just like we have regretted other school reform experiments with our children. Check the record of things tried and abandoned by the New Haven Board of Education in the last 40 years! And the kids are still losing!

posted by: speakingthetruth on April 17, 2013  9:26pm

Very well stated Brutus.  I often question many in administrative positions in NHPS and I wholeheartedly agree with everything you have said.

posted by: robn on April 17, 2013  9:27pm

I think having an evaluation system   is great because I’ve seen some slacker teachers in my life, but what’s never been clear to me is how New Havens eval system weighs the quality of the students being taught. If a teacher teaches well behaved honor students, is that teacher judged the same as one who teaches slower learning students or students with behavioral problems from distressed homes?

posted by: ms2676 on April 17, 2013  10:22pm

Why is it a witch hunt? I’m sure that principals hate to fire teachers, however, if they are not doing their job properly, then action needs to be taken.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on April 18, 2013  8:54am

posted by: ms2676 on April 17, 2013 10:22pm
Why is it a witch hunt? I’m sure that principals hate to fire teachers, however, if they are not doing their job properly, then action needs to be taken.

It is a witch hunt.Dedicated teachers in poor districts are being made the scapegoats for the failure to wipe out the destructive effects of poverty which is one of the problems.Firing teachers who have negative evaluations based on student performance on standardized tests and replacing them with other teachers will have little effect on the results.Sure,some teachers are better than others. But the entire profession is being demonized by the false assertion that the alleged massive failure in public education is the fault of bad teachers.

My bad.How about parent evaluations.

posted by: HhE on April 18, 2013  9:48am

Bad news, Threefifths, I agree with you. 

As always, well said, Brutus2011.

Likewise, Thomas Alfred Paine, well said. 

Amen, robn.

You might be surprised, ms2696.  I have found that many building administrators run “their” school like their personal fiefdom, and what better way to express one’s power, than to ruin someone else’s carrier?  (Please remember, in the teaching profession, termination is a carrier ender.  Unlike many other professions and trades, where it is just a bad day at the office.)

One of the real problems with teacher evaluations, is teacher evaluations.  If a teacher teaches 900 classes a year (5x180), they be observed 3 times at most.  Hardly a good sample size.  Many administrators are not good at observing teachers.  My Mother worked for 20 years in the Grrenwich Public Schools in staff development and teacher evaluations.  She says that she could tell that many of their administrators were doing a bad job of teacher evaluation just by reading the evaluations—and this is Greenwich, with the second highest pay scales in the state, and students who as a rule are good students.

posted by: mechanic on April 18, 2013  10:00am

I’m not an apologist for the New Haven “TEVAL” program by any means, but I do want to clear up some misconceptions.

A teacher’s score is not solely dependent on student test scores.  If a teacher works hard to improve their practice, but does not see improved test scores, they can still score a 3, which labels them an “effective” teacher and secures their position.

While New Haven was originally on the forefront of teacher evaluation programs, the state of Connecticut will require all teachers and administrators in all public schools (whether neighborhood, magnet, or charter) to be evaluated in a similar way this coming school year.  This was the central issue to the bill passed almost a year ago (which Malloy introduced by saying that teachers sit around for 4 years to attain tenure).

The real problem with New Haven’s TEVAL is the inconsistencey among evaluators (namely administrators).  This inconsistency can be seen building to building, and even in large schools from administrator to administrator.  I’d like to know what NHPS is doing to address this very critical issue.

posted by: CreatingUrgency on April 18, 2013  6:22pm

MECHANIC: The real problem with New Haven’s TEVAL is the inconsistency among evaluators (namely administrators).  This inconsistency can be seen building to building, and even in large schools from administrator to administrator.  I’d like to know what NHPS is doing to address this very critical issue.


And we’ve seen it. We’ve seen one administer give out 5s like they were party favors, and another give out 1s and 2s like he was a hatchet man.

There’s no reward for being a 5 other than knowing that you are doing a good job. And that’s what it should be.

You know what giving out 1s does? It kills morale. It makes us all feel vulnerable. It makes us all feel like crap. Because we know it IS crap.

Coming in to observe someone 3 times…all during the same time at the end of the day when we ALL have management issues…is LOW.

Coming in after spending only 6 years in the classroom and then telling ME I’m not improving fast enough….that’s LOW.

Coming in and not MODELING what you want to see is low.

One teacher was given a 1 and the outside validator came in and said he was a 5.

And you tell me this system is fair?

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on April 19, 2013  8:36am

I was reading this last night.How true it is.

The Corporate Dream: Teachers as Temps.

Just as corporations have revamped the private white collar workforce, replacing full-time, salaried personnel with “temporary” workers – a system in which some managers are officially temps – such are the prospects for teachers in the brave new corporate world of education “reform.”
Glen Ford.


posted by: ISR on April 20, 2013  12:35pm

Based upon his own criteria, de fact superintendent Harries is a “developing” administrator who should be considered for non-renewal. This NHI article, for example, documents the failures of continuing improvement of district test scores under his leadership: http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/mixed_bag_on_school_scores/

Shouldn’t he be held to the same standards as his teachers? Shouldn’t he be as accountable for the scores of his district as teachers are for the scores of their classrooms?

But let’s scrap the evaluating by test scores approach, which skews instruction to the test, and takes away weeks of actually learning stuff to teaching to the test. I’m all for assessment but that can be done by sampling rather than requiring every child to waste time taking tests.

Let’s look to the nation that has the best school system in the world and was a turnaround from low achievement—Finland.

Finland has no tests. It requires teachers—selected from the top 10 percent of university graduates—to have advanced degrees. Extensive on-site mentoring is key. Finnish students—who don’t start school until age 7—have the least amount of class time among advanced nations.

Yet, they are on top when evaluated.

Valuing not demeaning teachers is the way to go.

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on April 21, 2013  8:41am

Where New Haven’s much-touted “reform” may likely be headed: “The Atlanta cheating scandal illustrates the dangers of the modern infatuation with incentives”. http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/12/opinion/la-oe-stout-atlanta-teachers-incentives-20130412

posted by: careful on April 21, 2013  6:56pm

I do think that the evaluation system is needed there are some teachers that don’t know more than there students and some that just don’t care as long as they are being paid. Some are in their positions because of who they know not what they know give them tests lets see how many pass.

posted by: HhE on April 21, 2013  9:35pm

Careful, as a former teacher that did rather well on the NTE Core Battery and the NTE Content exam (aka CONNtent), please let me assure you that tests are not a good predictor of performance.  I do not have the results at hand, but as I recall, I scored in the 95th percentile, 75th, and 93rd on the three parts of the core battery (required for New York state) and 98th percentile on the content area exam (required for Connecticut).  I enjoyed answering a question on Josef Albers, my favorite artist, and was completed stumped by the question that require one to match lyrics with musical notes.  Yes, knowledge is important, but the crux of good teaching is something far greater: caring for one students, the ability to communicate, evaluate performance, and manage a classroom.

posted by: Teachergal on April 21, 2013  10:29pm

Careful:  Same can be said for administrators, even more so!

posted by: careful on April 22, 2013  5:15pm

Hhe As I said some not all, Your not one of them. Good to know we have some above average teachers but as I said some do not care. And I do say some not all.

posted by: HhE on April 22, 2013  9:54pm

Careful, was I a good teacher?  Some administrators, students, and parents would say, “Yes, definitely. One of the best even.”  I know other administrators, students, and parents would say, “No, he was awful.” 

Teacher exams can only test knowledge (subject and general), and some—very limited—skills.  As well as I did on them, I think they are rather useless.  They do not evaluated a teacher’s motivation nor their dedication. 

I certainly do not object to getting rid of the dead wood and the incompetents, but I find that administrators rarely bother, but they are often all over getting rid of a teacher for political reasons.