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Ann Arbor teachers share displeasure with evaluation system at school board meeting

Will Greenberg/Michigan Radio

A group of Ann Arbor teachers held a press conference before Wednesday's school board meeting to express their concern with the district's new teacher evaluations. 

Folks frustrated with the new policy also made their complaints heard during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Linda Carter, president of the Ann Arbor Education Association, said many are unhappy with the implementation of the full Danielson Framework, a research-based evaluation method that Ann Arbor schools have used, in part, for several years. 

Some are unhappy with the added paperwork that comes with the new system, while others worry the 76-part system will be too expansive to score well on, especially for newer teachers. 

More than anything, Carter said teachers bemoan the district for what they feel is poor collaboration and communication. 

"People want ... to be heard," she said. "And all of the other evaluation documents that we've lived through, we had a voice."

Ellen Daniel, a teacher at Tappan Middle School, echoed her peers in saying much of the confusion could be alleviated if teachers and administrators worked together on a booklet outlining the new policy. Right now, she said, this new evaluation requires a lot of attention that could otherwise go towards lesson planning and teaching. 

"You can't focus on 76 things. You can't," she said. "I mean, the essence of focus is to pick a couple of things and really dive deep into what that looks like."

Superintendent Jeanice Kerr Swift responded to public commentary at the school board meeting, saying she expects resources like the new teacher evaluation advisory committee, and other communication channels her office has set up, should help teachers get their questions answered. 

In an interview before the meeting, Swift said it may take time to iron out the details, but everyone needs to work together as things move forward. 

"What we have is a new system based in a framework with which we are all already very familiar," she said. "The idea that it's all new is not at all the case."

The new policy comes in the wake of changes to state laws regarding teacher evaluations. Assessments must now be research-based, and student growth must account for 25% of the evaluation for the next two school years, rising to 50% in 2018-2019. 

State Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, who stopped by the meeting Wednesday, said the AAPS conflict is indicative of state laws that constrain Michigan schools. 

"It's just particularly frustrating to see how state government is driving these problems at the local level," he said. "What I've seen out of our Ann Arbor educators, and out of our administrators here in Ann Arbor, is that they will do the hard work of coming together no matter how difficult state government makes it for them."

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