His Virginia accent coming through, James Stronge told representatives of dozens of New Jersey school districts that his teacher evaluation model was the right tool for the task. He also graciously said that none of his main competitors would be a bad choice.
But he didn't hide the fact that he was making a sales pitch to the 100 or so school leaders gathered for his presentation at the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association in Monroe.
“I’m not at all biased,” he said with a smile, “but this is the best tool and I hope you choose it.”
New Jersey schools are definitely in the market for an evaluation model, facing an end-of-year deadline set by the state to make their choices.
That model is a central part of the new tenure law enacted this summer, one that revamps when and how teachers receive tenure and requires districts to use an evaluation system that will accurately measure teacher performance.
One of the options for districts is devising their own systems, something that many have done for years, but now they need the state's OK. But the majority are comparison shopping among nearly a dozen models that the state has approved from an array of researchers, educators, and other practitioners across the country.
To the layman, they are not terribly different, each focusing on a few key characteristics of good teaching -- from strong lesson planning to effective classroom management. The real distinctions are in how they are packaged, the systems used for collecting data, the extra tools and training that are included, and -- of course -- the cost.
Many of the models go by the names of their developers, names like Robert Marzano, Kim Marshall and Charlotte Danielson, the last an especially popular program developed by an educational consultant out of Princeton.
The eponymous Stronge Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Performance Evaluation System was developed by the College of William and Mary education professor and has been adopted by a four states and about 50 districts so far in New Jersey.
It also has been endorsed by the principals association and has some advantages that made for an engaged audience yesterday.
The system focuses on a seven standards, rather than as many as 70 indicators used by other models such as Danielson.
It also provides a model for evaluating principals, another requirement of the tenure law.
But anything more than a cursory description takes time, taking almost three hours to detail just the teacher part of the presentation.
A key component of any model that wins state approval is that student performance -- whether standardized test scores or other measures -- constitute as much as half of a teacher’s eventual rating.
Stronge played up that requirement.
“This is where my tool is superior,” he said. “We have been working with this for a long time, and it’s not just an add-on for us.”
But he also talked about flexibility, and even acknowledged his product's shortcomings in pegging exactly where a teacher will fall in the four categories to be used in New Jersey: highly effective, effective, partially effective, and ineffective.
“That summative rating is a bit artificial,” he said. “There is a margin of error, and that is a best estimate.”
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