The Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board Tuesday night discussed teacher performance from two different perspectives and received some good news in the process.
The good news came from a consultant and adjunct professor from DePaul University, Clayton J. Graham, whose practice includes working with school districts on performance issues.
Graham noted that 10 years ago, District 65 ranked 333d among the state’s 800 elementary school districts on student performance measures. Since then, the ranking has improved to 75th, placing it among the top 10 percent of districts.
The district has done even better, he said, in measures of students exceeding district expectations, as it is now 75th in the state, placing it in the top 6 percent.
“Your students are performing exceptionally well,” he said, “when compared with districts in other parts of the state.”
As a mathematician, Graham says he makes performance comparisons adjusting for such demographics as educational attainment of parents, income levels, school attendance, mobility, and English as a second language.
Today’s seventh graders, he noted, ranked 224th in reading when they were in the third grade, but improved to 136th when they reached the seventh grade, leading him to conclude that “the longer you’re in Evanston schools, the better you do.”
Superintendent Hardy Murphy said that the district is attempting to identify the characteristics of teachers with superior performance and to use that information when hiring new teachers. He stressed, however, that quantitative information is supplemented by qualitative measures not discussed Tuesday night.
The other side of the performance coin on the board’s agenda Tuesday was a request from Murphy to accelerate the implementation of the state-mandated Performance Evaluation Reform Act (PERA), but before they could discuss the issue, Murphy told the board that he wished to change his recommendation.
Under the Act, a district can take up to 180 days to come up with a plan for evaluating teachers and principals, incorporating student growth as a major factor in that evaluation. Otherwise, the district would be forced to accept a model that has not yet been developed by the Illinois State Board of Education.
Because they do not yet know what that default model will be, Murphy said he would rather begin the discussions with the district’s Joint Evaluation Committee on an informal basis rather than starting the 180-day clock ticking on Feb. 1, as he had recommended in his memo that was in the board members’ packet for Tuesday’s meeting.
This brought a negative response from the teachers’ union president, Jean Luft, who told the board that the District Educators Council was disappointed in that decision. Murphy countered, however, that he still wanted to accelerate the PERA implementation, but on an informal, rather than a formal, basis, on the advice of counsel.