Most tenured teachers got high ratings last year, with 87 percent of those on biennial evaluation plans getting "excellent" or "proficient" ratings. Credit: Photo by Grace Donnelly

More than 80 percent of all Chicago Public Schools educators rated under the REACH evaluation system last year received “excellent” or “proficient” ratings – a proportion that’s similar to ratings distributions under the district’s previous evaluation system.

Last year was the first time that most tenured CPS teachers and counselors received ratings under the Recognizing Educators Advancing Chicago (REACH) evaluation system, which takes into account principal evaluations and student growth on tests.

CPS notified teachers of their ratings last month and recently provided Catalyst with district-level data on educators’ performance. The REACH system uses four levels: unsatisfactory, developing, proficient and excellent.

reach 2014-2015 chartNon-tenured teachers are rated annually, as are some tenured teachers, including those who were previously rated as “unsatisfactory” or “developing.” The majority of tenured educators are on biennial plans.

The data show that:

  • Tenured teachers on biennial evaluation plans did far better than non-tenured teachers and teachers on an annual plan. While 35 percent of tenured teachers were rated as “excellent,” only 19 percent of non-tenured teachers and 9 percent of tenured teachers on annual plans received that rating.
  • Most tenured teachers who had received a “developing” rating in 2013-2014 improved last year. Just 15 percent received another “developing” score or an unsatisfactory. (Two developing scores in a row equal an “unsatisfactory” rating, if the second score is lower than the first – a distinction that’s important for the purposes of layoff order. Two “unsatisfactory” ratings can result in a dismissal.)
  • Just over half the educators who had received a REACH rating in the 2013-2014 school year got the same rating last year. Another third improved, while 12 percent got worse.
  • About 75 percent of the district’s nearly 23,000 educators received ratings last year. Another 14 percent received an interim report because they were already rated during the previous year and are on a biennial plan; the remainder weren’t rated for a variety of largely technical reasons.

In a statement, CPS chief education officer Janice Jackson said the results “point out what we know about our teachers—that they are hard-working and committed to the success of their students. These results also show that our teachers have improved and have benefited from the tailored supports and the increased accountability that these evaluations bring.”

Layoff worries

But with district officials looking at the possibility of 5,000 layoffs later this school year – after passing a budget that relied on non-existent aid from Springfield — teachers who earned an unsatisfactory rating last year or were marked as “developing” for a second year in a row are worried about their job security. Previously, layoffs were based mostly on seniority and not performance.

“It’s confusing and scary,” says a veteran teacher at a South Side elementary school who received two “developing” ratings in a row and asked not to be identified.

He says the instability makes it tough to put all his energy into the classroom or to stay positive: “You start to internalize things I’m ‘unsatisfactory.’ Nothing I do must be worthwhile.”

Jen Johnson, the special coordinator for teacher evaluations at the Chicago Teachers Union, says the “stress and anxiety levels are extremely high.” So many teachers are calling her these days about their evaluations that she’s set up a special voicemail and automatic email message to respond.

Johnson says it’s important to remember that ratings come into play for layoff purposes only after principals have determined programmatic cuts. Once those teachers have been identified, those rated “unsatisfactory” – tenured and non-tenured alike – would be the first to go, in rating category order. Next in line are non-tenured teachers and then tenured teachers — in rating category order and by seniority.

Tenured teachers are most at risk in schools that already have seen non-tenured teachers dismissed as a result of budget cuts. Johnson says she’s heard of one school where all non-tenured teachers were already let go – meaning that tenured teachers will definitely be affected if there are more layoffs.

“This can hit schools very differently,” she says. “That’s what makes this so stressful for so many teachers. There’s so many factors to take into account: the composition of the school, the priorities of your principal, what formula CPS is going to use to calculate layoffs if there are layoffs.”

On Monday CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said layoffs would take place before February if the district is unable to fill a $480 million budget gap. Officials have said closing the deficit would likely entail a combination of layoffs and more “unsustainable borrowing.” Over the summer, CPS laid 472 educators, of whom more than half were rehired, according to a CTU researcher. Just under 100 more educators were laid off after 10th- day enrollment counts.

“Our schools in many, many cases have been cut to bare bones,” says Johnson. “The thought of laying off more people is just unimaginable for teachers and their students at this point. How do they do even more with even less?”

REACH was created to comply with a 2010 state law that requires teacher and principal evaluations to factor in student growth on standardized tests. State lawmakers passed that legislation in order to better compete for a federal Race to the Top grant, which it did not receive that year.

Race to the Top prompted many states to revise their evaluation systems, and 16 have fully implemented their revisions, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality.

In Illinois, the Legislature tapped Chicago to go first. CPS responded in 2012 with a system that uses an observation tool based on the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching rubric. Previously, Chicago used a “checklist” system, in which nearly half of all teachers received the highest possible rating. Last year, 28 percent of all teachers received the highest rating under REACH.

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

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