The New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) recently issued guidance on educator evaluations for the 2020-2021 school year. The guidance reflects the new and challenging circumstances teachers, administrators, and students are facing this year, including hybrid and remote learning.

“For educators and students alike, the 2020-2021 school year will be unlike any other and therefore, meaningful educator evaluations will be more important than ever before. As always, effective evaluation systems are designed to support teachers and school leaders in improving their practices and building upon their strengths,” the NJDOE guidance states. “As districts review their evaluation systems, teachers and school leaders must engage in reflective conversations and work together to implement procedures that will continue to improve teaching and learning.”

Educator Evaluations

The NJDOE guidance addresses five key themes that districts should consider in the creation of effective educator evaluation systems.  Each theme includes minimum regulatory requirements and additional recommendations to assist districts in utilizing evaluation systems through the 2020-2021 school year and beyond. Below are a few key takeaways:

1. Observations: All staff must receive the number of observations required by N.J.A.C. 6A:10:4.1 and 5.1. Traditional in-class observations remain the required method for evaluating in-class, in-person instruction. This includes hybrid models in which teachers are teaching in-class, in-person, with students. ”Districts should make every effort to ensure that at least one observation is an in-class observation of in-person instruction within the 2020-21 school year,” the NJDOE writes. However, if the instruction is not occurring in-class or in-person, teachers and evaluators may utilize the portfolio process instead. Discussed in more detail below, the portfolio process “allows educators to showcase their professional practice with a set of artifacts,” where each artifact gathered is aligned to the observation instrument’s domains and indicators and relevant to the teacher’s assigned duties associated with teaching in a remote setting.

2. Student Growth Objectives: Because state assessments were not conducted last school year, there will not be a median student growth percentile (mSGP) score included in the summative ratings of teachers, principals, vice principals, and assistant principals.

During the 2020-2021 school year, the student achievement component of AchieveNJ will be satisfied by Student Growth Objectives (SGOs) for teachers. Given these changes, the NJDOE recommends that school districts focus time and resources on the development of SGOs. “Given disruptions to instruction as a result of COVID-19-related school closures, it may be more difficult to determine appropriate growth expectations this year and districts should use the SGO-related training materials and resources to assist in that decision-making process,” the guidance states.

3. Training: While all training procedures as required by regulations (N.J.A.C. 6A:10) remain in effect, the NJDOE strongly recommends that districts “take advantage of the local flexibility they have with respect to training procedures.”

4. Involving Teachers in District Evaluation Procedures: School Improvement Panels (ScIP) are required to meet. The NJDOE recommends re-establishing a District Evaluation Advisory Committee (DEAC) and using its members to discuss and make recommendations on significant evaluation decisions. The guidance also recommends empowering teachers to assist in developing updated evaluation procedures which may require modifications. When engaging the ScIP, the guidance advises that school districts should: convene the ScIP as early as possible in the school year; solicit ScIP feedback on any district level policy and/or procedural change(s); and leverage the ScIP to disseminate information between administration and teachers.

5. Setting Clear Expectations: The guidance confirms that all regulations concerning Professional Development Plans (N.J.A.C. 6A:9-15) and Corrective Action Plans (N.J.A.C. 6A:10-2.5) remain in place. Accordingly, the NJDOE advises that districts should ensure that educators have a clear and concrete understanding of how they might improve during the school year. In developing Professional Development Plans or Corrective Action Plans, the NJDOE recommends considering school or districtwide goals that support the growth of all educators and address issues related to the impact of COVID-19 school closures.

New Portfolio Protocols

For the 2020-2021 school year, the portfolio process provides an alternative to the traditional twenty-minute single classroom observation. As described by the NJDOE, the process allows educators to showcase their professional practice with a set of artifacts, stretched out over a window of time mutually agreed upon by the educator and his or her supervisor.

To start the portfolio process, educators must gather artifacts of their work completed during the observation window which are aligned to the observation instrument’s domains and indicators. The NJDOE notes that this is not supposed to be a large portfolio. Both the supervisor and teacher must agree on the type of learning that will be included. Evidence of direct observation of synchronous or the indirect observation of asynchronous online learning should be included as follows:

  • Synchronous remote learning: The observer watches a class being conducted online. This is a direct observation.
  • Asynchronous remote learning: The observer is provided evidence from a classroom lesson using asynchronous methods (ex. prerecorded lessons, class blogs, student discussion boards, student chat spaces, etc.). This is an indirect observation.
  • Additional evidence: Other evidence should focus on critical domains with at least one piece per domain observed and no more than four to five per domain observed.

The NJDOE emphasizes that evidence collected must be relevant to the assigned duties and responsibilities associated with teaching in a remote setting. In addition, there should be enough evidence presented to facilitate a conversation regarding the educator’s growth during the specified window.

Key Takeaway

COVID-19 has dramatically altered how education is conducted in New Jersey. In addition to following the NJDOE’s latest guidance, districts should consider whether their current teacher evaluation procedures will result in a fair and equitable score under the changed circumstances caused by the pandemic.

For guidance in conducting educator evaluations during these challenging times, we encourage school districts to work with experienced legal counsel. The education law attorneys of Scarinci Hollenbeck are here to address any questions or concerns you may have.

If you have questions, please contact us

If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me, Lawrence Teijido, or the Scarinci Hollenbeck attorney with whom you work, at 201-896-4100.