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‘Evaluation’ is a bad word to some teachers

POSTED February 11, 2011 8:36 p.m.

I now have a better understanding of the phrase “making a mountain out of a mole hill.”

On Feb. 4 I wrote the article “School administrators justify iPad purchases,” followed by a Feb. 9 article “Taking steps to improve.” In both articles I wrote about Turlock Unified School District administrators implementing the Sheltered Intervention Observation Protocol (SIOP), which is one of the district’s strategies to improve the way students learn and bring up test scores.

Under SIOP, district administrators, along with coaching teachers, go into classes and “observe” teachers. Later those administrators provide feedback on how to reach all students in the classroom, after filling out a form in which the “observation” is rated from 1 to 4 in 30 different components.

Evidently, these two articles whipped up a rather large bit of a fury among some teachers because I used the word “evaluation” as a way to describe the SIOP process.

According to a TUSD district official, teachers at numerous schools concluded that the word “evaluate” was a threat to them and their union-negotiated “evaluation.” The same district official informed me that teachers’ actual “evaluation” forms are negotiated upon between the teachers’ union and administrators. Yes, for those of you who don’t know…the actual words and physical layout of the “evaluation” forms are negotiated on. The SIOP “observation” would violate the union-approved “evaluation” form…but only if it was an “evaluation.”

I am writing this column to make it clear to those concerned teachers: the SIOP process and forms are in no way an official “evaluation.”

The word I should have used was “observation.” I have been assured by district officials that the SIOP forms are not going to be used, as the official said, “against them (teachers).” 

In fact, the SIOP process and forms are “observation” tools so administrators and teachers can work together to improve learning for students.

Please understand, concerned teachers, that the word “evaluation” was my word, not TUSD officials. When I wrote the article I wasn’t writing it for teachers, I was writing it for the community of Turlock and parents of TUSD students, 99 percent of who are not teachers. The point of the iPad article was to communicate why TUSD administrations chose to purchase the iPads and let the reader draw a conclusion from that. The purpose of “taking steps to improve” was to show Turlock residents how their school district officials are working to make a difference in test scores.

To me, a newbie to the whole education-world lingo and processes, SIOP seemed like a simple “evaluation." You know, the type the overwhelming majority of people get at jobs usually every six to 12 months.

What struck me as odd was what the administrator told me about a few teachers’ reactions under the belief that SIOP was an "evaluation," and that some teachers in TUSD are on five-year evaluation cycle. Now, call me crazy, but how is someone at a job supposed to be held accountable by their superiors if they are only evaluated every five years, or furthermore, every two years? Even with test scores.

That same administrator told me that they now have to go to numerous schools and clear up the mix up on the whole "evaluation" and "observation" in my articles.

I served in the Navy and I’ve worked in the civilian sector since I left the Navy. I have never gone more than six months in my working life without an “evaluation”. Oh, and I certainly have never felt as if my “evaluation” was a “threat” to me, or that anyone was out to get me with that “evaluation.” Heaven forbid I should be “evaluated” on how I go about my day-to-day business by my superiors. And heaven forbid I should be provided with feedback to improve my performance.

Now believe me, I don’t have a card in this game of “evaluations” and “observations.” My three small kids go to a private school in Merced. But to those certain teachers (a small but vocal group) that feel “threatened” by an “evaluation,” here is my “observation:” The SIOP process is working, test scores across the district are going up in the face of tough odds. Administrators in TUSD are not out to get you, they are in the business of education for the same reason you are — for the children. Administrators are not a “threat,” even if they are “observing” or “evaluating.” Oh, and another “observation,” if you are doing your job to the best of your ability, why would an “evaluation” be a “threat,” even if it was just an “observation.”

Maybe I'm off-base here. Maybe I don't know what I'm writing about, which could very well be the case; I am after all a newbie to the complex world of education. If I am, I challenge those teachers who are concerned about SIOP to call or write me and I’ll correct any misunderstandings. 

Before I wrap this up I want it noted that I fully respect and admire education professionals for what they do for our society. I like covering education because I truly care about our society and I care that kids, teachers and administrators get recognition for what they do right, even if it's not my kids in the school district. The vast majority of teachers are heroes in my book. 

To contact me, or to provide an “observation” or “evaluation,” e-mail jmccorkell@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.

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