LEWISTON — In the past year, all of Lewiston's 400 teachers have undergone evaluations in a new teacher evaluation system.
Teachers could earn one of four grades: distinguished, effective, developing or ineffective.
Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster told the Lewiston School Committee on Monday night the vast majority were deemed effective or distinguished. A few have “gotten a wake-up call.” They have a year to improve or face losing their jobs.
Committee chairman Jim Handy asked "How well, if at all, will this system be used to identify teachers who aren't making the grade?”
Webster answered there are a handful of teachers who were ranked as ineffective. "They received a letter from me encouraging them to work very hard on this plan, also making it clear if they're unsuccessful, they may well face non-renewal next February,” Webster said. “No one wants a bad teacher, but we have to make sure we give teachers every opportunity to be successful.”
Lewiston's new evaluation system gives teachers more support, more coaching and more professional development. But compared to the old system, it's harder for bad teachers to go unnoticed.
Under the old system, there were teachers evaluated as very effective who are now only ranked as developing, Webster told the board.
The new system grades teachers for how well students are learning and how well they're engaged and doing in the classroom.
The old system gave too much weight to a teacher's appearance, how their walls were decorated or what degrees they had — what Webster called “the inputs of instruction rather than the outputs.”
Committee member Sonia Taylor asked, “You mean a teacher got brownie points for coming to school looking good?”
Yes, Webster said. Under the old system, “a teacher that was marginal in the classroom, but good in other aspects ... it was nearly impossible to have that teacher rated anything other than effective," he said. “We're talking about a handful, but this evaluation has been a wake-up call for some teachers.”
Lewiston is a statewide leader in adopting a new evaluation that grades teachers for the job they're doing in class, Webster said. Statewide, the old ways of teacher evaluations remain.
Teachers graded as ineffective or developing are receiving extra help. Each school has a teacher who's a full-time instructional coach to help teachers improve. Those positions are funded by a federal grant, Webster said.
While all teachers were evaluated last year, from now on, only teachers in their first three years of probation will be evaluated annually, as will teachers who were graded as developing or ineffective.
Once a teacher with three years or more of experience is graded as efficient or distinguished, they'll be re-evaluated just once every three years, Webster said.
Ultimately, the new system will provide students better learning, Webster said. Teaching needs to help students understand what they're learning so they apply learning to other areas.
For instance, students answering only “yes” or “no” to questions “is a low level of the quality of engagement,” Webster said. What's needed is a higher level, “getting into the why's, applying what we learned in different areas."
The new evaluation system helps teachers become better by pointing out their strengths and weaknesses, and prompts them to be reflective about their practice.
“How we improve is to ask ourselves 'How could I have done it better?' 'What was Sally telling me by her facial reactions?'”
Lewiston teacher Amanda Winslow, who is one of the coaches, told committee members that she can see how many students are benefiting from the lesson just by walking in a classroom. “You can see based on level of engagement if the teacher is adjusting” teaching to draw all students in, she said.
Webster said he gives the first year of the new evaluation system a grade of B. “It reflects a strong commitment on the part of the district and teachers to do the best they can," he said.
There still some work to do, he added. "It's not an A.”