By Matthew Tungate

Kentucky Department of Education officials are using the Kenton County school district as a model in developing a statewide teacher-evaluation system.

Since the 2009-10 school year, Kenton County has been using a rubric-based performance-evaluation model that teachers, school administrators and district officials collaboratively researched, designed and implemented, according to Michael Dailey, director of the Department of Education’s Division of Next-Generation Professionals and coordinator of the state’s project.

“It has set the standard that all districts, including the state, should follow to make sure that teachers and principals are valued in the process. Their approach kept the focus on the needs of students, teachers and administrators to make sure all of this works together,” Dailey said. “They went down a path that very few across the country have gone.”

Dailey said the department hopes to have model teacher- and principal-evaluation systems for districts to implement or use as the basis for their own systems within three years.

“We’re trying to build a system that supports the growth of the teacher,” Dailey said. “We’re trying to build a system that says, ‘If I receive the additional support – if I receive the coaching and mentoring that I need – I can not only improve practice, but I can impact what happens with my students.’'”

Kenton wanted to describe good teaching

Kenton County school officials didn’t start off to design a cutting-edge teacher-evaluation system or one for principals that the district also has implemented, according to Deputy Superintendent Terri Cox-Cruey.

The district was struggling to identify good teaching because so many teachers, school administrators and district officials had received various types of training with various terms and definitions, said Cox-Cruey, who is in her 11th year in the district and 24th in education.

“We had all of these things that were best practices floating around, but we didn’t have any way to articulate to the teachers when we saw something powerful in the classroom,” she said. “We went into it thinking we needed a common language and vocabulary to help people improve their teaching practice.”

Superintendent Tim Hanner said he heard educational consultant Charlotte Danielson speak about eight years ago on her Framework for Teaching, which uses levels of performance to cover expected practices of good teachers, while he was still deputy superintendent. Some districts were using her framework to give teachers feedback on their performance.

So he discussed it with the head of the Kenton County teachers’ association, who was interested but wanted the district to develop a principal rubric first, Hanner said.

Cox-Cruey said research done by University of Wisconsin educator Richard Halverson fit the district’s needs and didn’t need much revision, so the district turned it into the principal-evaluation measure.

“We were able to actually coach principals on how to get better. All the language was in one document,” she said, “so we knew the power if this ever became the teacher evaluation.”

Collaboration was key to creating rubric

Six years ago, Hanner approached the teachers’ union again, asking for a small group of teachers to look at instruments to help improve teacher performance. Several members of the group independently brought back Danielson’s work, Hanner said.

“This is not about taking her framework and saying, ‘Do we agree with it?’ and it becomes the instrument,” he said. “This is about how can we make this our own, based on our past, based on where we are in the present and based on where we want to go in the future.”

So Cox-Cruey and others started working on having a framework that was a continuum of what good teaching looks like, using Danielson as a beginning and then making it their own, Hanner said. When he became superintendent five years ago, the teacher-evaluation rubric became a top district priority.

As many as 60 teachers, school administrators and district officials were working on the criteria, often meeting weekly, he said. “People were excited about the work,” Hanner said.

Sharon Cross, president of the Kenton County Education Association, has taught 6th-grade science at Twenhofel Middle School for 23 of her 31 years in education. She was part of the original team that ultimately led to the new rubric.

“We liked the rubric models because they afforded the greatest ability to see just where people’s strengths would fall within a given framework,” Cross said.

By the 2008-09 school year, the Professional Practices Rubric (PPR) was ready to be used as a tool. However, the district did not tie the results of the rubric to teacher evaluations – which soon became a problem.

Hanner said teachers liked the rubric and were frustrated that it was not tied to their evaluations. Using the rubric, teachers were able to evaluate themselves and get feedback on their craft from their principal in many different areas and on a spectrum. The evaluation system at the time only rated teachers on a scale from one (worst) to four (best).

“If you go in there and you just develop a tool and you just give the new tool and you still use the old process that ‘I’ll be in your room twice a year because that’s mandated,’ you’re not going to really see a difference in performance,” Cox-Cruey said.

So two years ago teachers and the district agreed to use the rubric for teacher evaluations. Now, teachers and principals do their reviews individually based on the rubric, and then they sit and talk about where the teacher’s performance falls and why.

“It turns that into a dialogue rather than the teacher sitting with his or her arms folded, and the principal saying, ‘Okay, here’s what I think: you’re a three in this area and a two in this area,’” Hanner said. “It’s much more powerful.”

Evaluation rubric helps teachers improve

That’s because teachers can see where they are on the rubric and what they need to do to grow in a particular area, Cross said. That way even veteran teachers have room for improvement in an area such a technology and can still be considered good teachers, she said.

“With a number system, some people are afraid that if they don’t get a four in everything, that makes them a bad teacher,” Cross said. “As we tell our students, we learn new things every day, and we all have room for growth. This rubric allows us to self-monitor our growth so we can be better teachers for our students.”

Teachers can be rated as unsatisfactory, beginning, developing, proficient and exemplary on the rubric, and they may provide evidence to support where they fall on the document.

“Our goal is not to document to death so we can non-renew 1 percent of our teacher population,” Cox-Cruey said. “Our goal was the opposite – it was to help 99 percent get better, or 100 percent for that matter.”

That happens in several ways. One is regular feedback, Cox-Cruey said.

Principals are supposed to give feedback to teachers every time they are in the classroom, which is supposed to be frequently. Principals at small schools are often in every classroom every week, she said.

“Any time they see anything that’s part of the teacher’s growth plan, whether they are in the evaluation cycle or not, they can go back and electronically send them feedback,” Cox-Cruey said. “Teachers can hold that and accumulate that if they choose to for their three-year (evaluation) cycle.”

Principal Connie Ryle has spent 21 of her 32 years in education as a principal, the last 12 at R. C. Hinsdale Elementary School. She said feedback from teachers has been positive.

“We are able to do a status review of progress on growth plans in an efficient manner,” she said. “Teachers can monitor progress toward reaching their goals. Principals can ask clarifying questions or give coaching tips as needed.

“I feel the quality of teacher performance has improved with the use of the PPR, which in turn, means that student achievement is improving. Teachers are aware of what exemplary and proficient practices look like and want to be there. Principals can have meaningful discussions about planning and preparation, learning environment, instruction, assessment, and professional responsibilities to a different level than before. I believe we have the right process in place to truly improve teacher performance.”

Hanner said he sees teachers shift away from thinking about growth as an annual event to an ongoing occurrence.

Cross said teachers used to look to see if they got all threes and fours and then put their evaluation away until the next evaluation cycle, three years later.

“It is so different now,” she said. “Because I know where I am on the rubric, I can continue to strive toward improvement. I don’t wait until the next evaluation cycle. The feedback from the administration is continuous and quite helpful.”

The system is working because teachers and principals co-developed the evaluations and have an understanding of what effective teaching is in the district, Hanner said.

“That ownership on behalf of the teachers, in our opinion, was critical in this,” he said.

The conversations were, and continue to be, vital to the process, Cross said.

“As teachers and administrators, we know what good teaching looks like,” she said. “We were a part of the development of the instrument – it was not something that was handed to us. Because of that ownership, it definitely led to better buy-in from the teachers. Our opinions mattered; we felt respected and listened-to. That is crucial to developing an instrument that will be effective.”

That message has not been lost on Dailey as statewide work gets under way. Teachers, principals and administrators in 25 school districts are reviewing a proposed rubric and giving feedback.

“We aren’t designing anything without a teacher and principal voice. In fact, the design takes place at the grassroots level,” Dailey said. “Local districts have the opportunity to truly design, develop and deploy. The state is facilitating the process so that their voices, ideas and concerns are heard, understood, conveyed and then demonstrated through how the system is coming together.”

Cox-Cruey said she and Hanner have worked with the groups developing the statewide teacher- and principal-evaluation systems, and she has had a simple message for them:

“The power is not the tool, it’s the process.”

Michael Dailey,, (502) 564-1479
Tim Hanner,, (859) 344-8888