Charlotte Danielson of the Danielson Group (sitting at table) and Sara Ray Stoelinga, senior director at the Urban Education Institute and associate clinical professor at University of Chicago's Committee on Education.LA RISA LYNCH/Contributor

A mix of teachers and administrators filed into an Oak Park elementary school auditorium, April 17, to get a better understanding of the state’s new teacher evaluation protocol.

Last year, Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law the Performance Evaluation Reform Act (PERA), a bill that sets tougher evaluation standards for teachers. The law makes student performance a significant factor in teacher evaluation and requires regular oversight of classroom conditions. That last bit raises some concerns as expressed by area teachers attending the event held at Percy Julian Middle School, 416 S. Ridgeland.

Mrs. Brown, who declined to give her first name, said her South Suburban school district has already begun using the state’s new evaluation process. She said many of her colleagues know little about it.

“They just want more information to see how it is going to impact the classroom and see how it is going to impact their future in teaching actually,” said the Oak Park resident, who has taught for seven years. She also declined to identify the South Suburban school where she teaches.

Trying to make sense of the evaluation process for those in attendance was Charlotte Danielson of the Danielson Group, among the guest speakers at the event. The state has allowed districts the option of using the model Danielson developed, called Framework for Teaching.

Danielson noted that there was no statewide evaluation system until this law. Every district used its own evaluation process, which varied in quality and didn’t always adequately reflect quality teaching, she explained. In Chicago, she noted, the evaluation system “was just a little simple checklist.”

“The way this has been done for years, years and years simply is not good enough because the children are not learning well and they can’t sit still for that,” Danielson said. “So I think everybody welcomes a better approach.”

That approach evaluates teachers on several factors, including classroom management, planning and preparation, classroom instruction, and professional responsibility. Principals are the ones who will evaluate teachers through classroom observation. Each district can determine how often those evaluations take place.

Evaluation, Danielson explained, gives teachers an indication of what works and what doesn’t and then allows them to make improvements.

“That is the whole reason for doing this,” she said, “not just to give teachers a score, but to give them guidance on what to work on.”

Before the presentation, teachers Benjellica Smyre and Sarena Johnson were unfamiliar with the inner workings of the new evaluation system. Now they see its potential. The evolution system, the teachers said, holds teachers accountable and clearly defines what they will be evaluated on.

Prior to this law, Smyre said, evaluations were subjective, allowing principals to do whatever they thought was best.

“This is not something that is just thrown together. It is very specific and very clear-cut,” the first year teacher said of the state’s new evaluation system.

Oak Park’s District 97, which serves K-8 students, already uses the model developed by Danielson. D97 school board President Peter Barber came to the event to ensure that they are using it “accurately and aggressively.”

“While we’re doing, I think, a good job, we know there are things we can do better,” Barber said.

Having a clearly defined evaluation process allows for professional development and growth among teachers, said Jim O’Connor, project director of Advance Illinois, one of the sponsors for Tuesday’s event. He is also a D97 school board member.

“In many districts in our state, the teacher evaluation system can be a meaningless exercise in checking boxes. It’s meaningless for both the principals and the teacher, and we want to move from that system to one that both the principal and the teacher grow from,” O’Connor said.

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