New teacher evaluation systems are slowly coming together in school districts across New Jersey, but two reports released by the state Department of Education this week show there are still many questions and concerns about the fairness and effectiveness of the process.

“It’s still a challenge,” said Kathleen Taylor, superintendent of the Ocean City school district, one of 10 pilot districts that began testing the process last year. “Time (to complete all the evaluations) is still a big issue. People do have other work to do. But I’m thankful we are in the pilot so we can bring our thoughts and questions to the Department of Education.”

A report from the Rutgers University Graduate School of Education found that every pilot district succeeded in implementing an observation system in the first year but that the time required to do multiple observations could put a significant burden on school administrators. Consistency of evaluations across schools and districts is also a concern.

The report noted that while in one pilot district 60 percent of teachers had received the highest score, in another only 6 percent achieved the highest score. Most teachers scored as proficient, or at Level 3, with only a few scoring at Level 2 or lower on a scale of 1 to 4.

Another report — this one by the Evaluation Pilot Advisory Committee — said clarity was needed in how student progress in grades and subjects that do not have state tests will be measured and included in the teacher evaluations.

A survey conducted by Rutgers found that 74 percent of administrators thought their measuring system for assessing teachers generated accurate assessments, but only 32 percent of teachers agreed. But even among the districts, opinion varied widely. Overall, administrators were more satisfied with the process than teachers were.

Curt Nath, president of the Ocean City Education Association and a teacher at the high school, said the process has generated a collaborative discussion on standards and assessments in the district. But, he said, the issues that remain are major concerns.

“Capacity is a huge issue,” he said, also citing the time it will take administrators to do multiple observations of every teacher — plus the paperwork and feedback. But, he said, a proposal to reduce the time of an observation from 40 minutes to as little as 10 minutes could produce a far less accurate result.

He said using student state test scores as a major factor in teacher evaluations is an issue because so many subjects are not tested. Measuring growth over time in elementary school can be done using the state ASK tests in grades three through eight, but there is no decision on how growth would be measured in high school biology or for kindergarten, when there is no comparison from the previous year.

“Teachers just want to be sure there is equity,” Nath said.

A majority of the pilot districts, including Ocean City, are using the Danielson model developed by Princeton-based educator Charlotte Danielson. The model includes an online tool that gives immediate feedback to the teacher and suggests professional development options where needed.

Taylor said Ocean City has been sharing its information and experience with other districts that are developing evaluation systems this year. The new evaluations are scheduled to take effect statewide for the 2013-14 school year.

State officials called the state reports a positive sign.

“While we never expected the first year of the pilot to be perfect, we are motivated by the finding that educators are having more meaningful conversations than ever before about effective teaching, which of course is the first step to helping continuously improve student outcomes,” Education Commissioner Chris Cerf said

Contact Diane D’Amico:

609-272-7241