Parents, students to have voice in teacher appraisals

The Ministry of Education announced Friday that new measures have come into effect to allow parents and senior high school students input into their teachers’ performance appraisals.
“Parents and students can provide valuable input into a teacher’s appraisal,” Education minister Janet Ecker said in a press release.
“Their feedback will help to improve student achievement and support teachers in their efforts to inspire and motivate students,” she noted.
Students in Grade 11, 12, or OAC will be given a survey about their teacher’s communication skills and ability to promote student learning. Parents will be able to give input on a teacher’s communications with them.
The new measures, which will be phased into Ontario schools this fall, are part of the Ontario Teacher Testing Program first announced back in May, 2000.
Superintendent of Education Terry Ellwood said the Rainy River District School Board is exploring ways to incorporate this requirement into current appraisal policies.
“We haven’t developed a template for that yet,” he said yesterday, adding they’ve been discussing the issue with other boards and are trying to find out what works best for them.
“I think teachers and administrators have always welcomed input from students and from parents,” Ellwood remarked. “Their perspective is an important thing to consider.”
Fort Frances High School principal Ian Simpson noted parents and students won’t be asked to comment on all aspects of a teacher’s performance.
“It’s not to be used for personnel decisions regarding teachers,” he said Tuesday. “It’s to be used . . . to effectively measure how well teachers communicate with parents and students.
“It will not be getting into how well a teacher teaches. That’s still the duty of the principal,” he stressed.
The survey is only one of almost 20 areas used in evaluating teachers.
So far, the Ministry of Education, principals, and education groups are completing the evaluation forms. While he hasn’t seen a copy of the survey, Simpson predicted that parents will answer a series of questions by checking off a box.
Parents then will be asked to sign the bottom of the form. A school would not accept the form if it’s not signed but to ensure confidentiality, signatures would be removed before teachers got to see the surveys.
“I’d like to stress that this is one part of the provincial process of supervision and evaluation of teachers,” Simpson said.
He added the school board already has an effective method for supervising and evaluating teachers, including a recent update that will see all teachers evaluated every three years.
“Our policy and procedure at the board level is focused on professional growth of teachers,” Simpson said. “We have a lot of very good teachers and the whole process is to help them become better teachers.”
He added he hoped the new policy wouldn’t hinder the ability of teachers to improve.
Ellwood agreed the board’s current appraisal policy, which includes setting yearly performance goals and more formal appraisals for each teacher every three years, are effective and that parent input will be one more tool to help teachers.
STill, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation is leery about the new policy. Local president Ed Ojala said a good evaluation process already exists, and that parents always have had input in the school about teachers.
“The Tories have mislead the public because the teacher appraisal does nothing to improve the learning of students. Instead, they have turned a profession into a popularity contest,” he charged.
A number of teachers also are worried about the surveys having a negative affect on their careers.
“They’re probably concerned that a student who was disciplined in the classroom for something that was justified, it will be used in some negative way,” Ojala said.
He said teachers continue to engage in professional growth and that the government merely is mandating what teachers already do.
“The legislation in question is just another expensive government program that is designed to once again erode the public faith in our education system and divert more money away from the classroom,” Ojala argued.
“Our message to teachers is to focus on everything in the classroom, the other stuff is hype.”