More teachers evaluated under the district’s new rating system scored in the top two categories as “proficient” or “excellent” in the classroom, with elementary school teachers scoring higher than their counterparts in high schools.

The scores from evaluations conducted last year are from the second cycle of the REACH (Recognizing Educators Advancing Chicago) Students system, which takes student test scores into account as well as classroom observations.

Non-tenured teachers, who had already been rated once using REACH, scored better than the small subset of tenured teachers who were being evaluated for the first time.2013-14 non tenured v tenured

In the first cycle, only non-tenured teachers were rated with REACH; in last year’s second cycle, about 10 percent of tenured teachers were included.

This school year, in the third cycle, all tenured teachers will be evaluated and student performance on tests will account for 30 percent of ratings. (In the first two years, tests accounted for 25 percent of ratings.)

According to CPS data from the second cycle:

65 percent of the 7,031 evaluated teachers were rated proficient or excellent. In comparison, just 58 percent received these high ratings a year earlier.

About 59 percent of tenured teachers were rated excellent or proficient, compared to 68 percent of non-tenured teachers.

More than 8 percent of tenured high school teachers were rated unsatisfactory – the lowest category – compared to about 5 percent of elementary school teachers.

District officials said the improved performance of non-tenured teachers could be because they have had “additional experience with the evaluation […] Also, previous evaluations enabled principals and assistant principals to improve feedback and develop targeted support for teachers.”

Jennie Jiang, a research analyst at the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research who has studied the new system, cautioned against comparing the ratings of non-tenured versus tenured teachers, because the pool of tenured teachers who were evaluated using REACH included only those who’d been rated poorly under the previous system or who hadn’t received any rating a year earlier.

“These are the teachers who were already struggling in the previous system or, for whatever reason, they had no rating,” she said. “We’re not really getting a sense of what ratings for tenured teachers would look like.”

Meanwhile, CPS officials said they are still looking into why ratings for elementary and high school teachers were different. Jiang said the issue merits further analysis, but offered some possible explanations. She said the observation rubric – known as the CPS Framework for Teaching – was orginally piloted more in elementary schools than in high schools, meaning that elementary school principals and teachers are more familiar with it.

In addition, in interviews with teachers, Jiang and her colleagues have found that more high school teachers complained that their principals were unfamiliar with their specific subject area – which could have negatively impacted the observations.

“Teachers don’t feel that their principals understand their specialization, which we heard more at high schools than elementary schools,” she said.

Jiang further added that “it’s easier in elementary schools to really observe that a student is engaged. Kids tend to get excited, and there are visual cues of engagement,” Jiang said. “High school students are different. They could be listening, but maybe they’re not showing it as much.”

In a report released last year, Jiang and her colleagues at the Consortium found that most teachers and administrators thought REACH provides helpful feedback. But researchers pointed to several important challenges, including an increased workload for principals and anxiety among teachers about using test scores as part of evaluations.

The consortium plans to release a follow-up to the report in two weeks.

Questions about delay

CPS released ratings to individual teachers on Oct. 30, more than a month after teachers got the data last year. In the weeks prior to receiving the ratings, many teachers had expressed anxiety over not knowing how they performed. Though teachers got immediate feedback from the observations, they did not know how students’ test scores affected their cumulative ratings.

The frustration mounted after principal observations for this year’s evaluations began in late September.

“No one has been clear on when we’re getting them,” one teacher said during a study group on the CPS Framework for Teaching last month organized by the Chicago Teachers Union Quest Center.

(In collaboration with CPS, the Quest Center offers teachers regular study groups on different parts of the Framework, which is the rubric principals use to grade teacher performance.)

In a statement on the Chicago Teachers Union web site, officials called the delay “entirely unprofessional and unacceptable.”

“Educators started to receive new observations in their classrooms without full information from the previous year,” according to the statement. “Educators have a right to accurate, thorough and timely feedback at the end of a given school year so that over the summer, they can either begin or seek out new professional learning opportunities and state the process of adjusting their plans for the following school year based on complete feedback.”

CPS officials said it took longer to release the data this year because of the higher number of teachers being evaluated.

“Adding these teachers increased the amount of time necessary to review and incorporate the data into composite scores,” a district spokesperson said in a statement.

Melissa Sanchez is a reporter for The Chicago Reporter. Email her at and follow her on Twitter at @msanchezMIA.

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