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New student learning objectives part of teacher evaluations

Posted: September 17, 2015 5:26 p.m.
Updated: September 18, 2015 1:00 a.m.

Teachers have always needed to figure out what their students should learn by the end of the school year. That’s nothing new. What is new for the 2015-16 school year is formally coming up with student learning objectives (SLOs) -- for each student they teach -- using them to determine students’ progress (growth) and adding the data to teacher evaluations.

Kershaw County School District (KCSD) Coordinator for Recruitment, Retention & Evaluation Dr. Lisa Shannon provided the Kershaw County Board of Trustees with an overview of SLOs during its meeting Tuesday. In introducing Shannon, KCSD Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan said while the district knew SLOs were coming, the assumption was it would only affect teachers leading non-testing subjects. Now, it’s affecting all teachers, Morgan said.

“Dr. Shannon’s done a good job working with principals and teachers as we’ve kind of had to change directions pretty quickly,” Morgan said. “It’s certainly presented some challenges, but the thing I’m hearing and seeing as I go into the schools is what this process has done is generating some really good discussion about instruction across grade levels, within grade levels, across schools, elementary to secondary.”

Shannon said 95 percent of the district’s teachers are having to write SLOs. She said remaining 5 percent are teachers working with particular special needs students. Even after finding out nearly all teachers were going to have to write SLOs, Shannon said the district hoped to move teachers into the requirement in phases.

“(Now), absolutely not. They said, ‘everybody, this year.’ And that was a change as of July,” she said.

As they create their SLOs, teachers will meet with principals three times a year for 1) an approval conference at the beginning of the school year; 2) a mid-year check-in; and 3) a final conference to review the percentage of students meeting growth targets.

Shannon said principals will approve a teacher’s SLOs, but may only guide the teacher’s focus.

“But, basically, the teacher has that authority to choose the area they want to focus as far down as the standards and instructional strategies,” she said. “Principals really have no say other than ‘that looks good; I approve it for you.’”

According to Shannon, teachers will “pre-score” students on established growth targets, and be rated 1-4, with 1 being unsatisfactory, 2 - needing improvement, 3 - proficient and 4 - exemplary. An example of a SLO for a class of 5th Grade math students could be for all students to improve their ability to multiply multi-digit whole numbers in straight computational and “real-world” situations. The teacher would have to come up a baseline and trend data, based either on data from previous students learning the subject or by having students take a pre-test to determine where they are.

“It is not anything new to (teachers), it’s just a matter of having to put it down in a form. Really, this is a long-range plan they’ve always done for the year … now they’re just choosing a group of students or class or course. So, it’s just a matter of putting it down in writing.”

Also Tuesday, the board discussed the possibility of adopting a policy which would allow trustees who cannot attend meetings in person to do so “by proxy” electronically. This could be done either by telephone or teleconference. Morgan provided the board with a copy of a policy adopted in November 2014 by Rock Hill School District 3 (RHSD 3).

“It focuses on exceptional circumstances. They talk about they should be extenuating and not a regular sort of issue, because of illness or travel, work obligations or so forth,” Morgan said.

While trustees seemed to like the idea of being able to “attend” meetings this way, one concern focused on executive sessions. Morgan said RHSD 3’s policy discouraged electronic participation during executive sessions, but still allowed for it if a majority of the board present agreed on a case by case basis.

Trustee Mara Jones indicated she was uncomfortable with “by proxy” attendance of an executive session.

“I would just have reservations somebody using audio or video for executive sessions because how do we know about the privacy of that,” Jones said.

Morgan said most boards which appear to allow for electronic participation executive session for special circumstances, they suggest only doing so by phone.

“Skyping executive sessions scares me a little bit,” Morgan said.

Trustee Dr. Charles King II asked whether a board member attending the public portion of a meeting electronically, but not the executive session, would be allowed to vote on a matter discussed in executive session. Jones said she felt this would not be a good idea.

“Because (a trustee) may not have been privy to other information that might have been disclosed,” she said.

Jones said she also wants trustees to reexamine their board governance policies to help keep members from abusing the ability to attend meetings electronically.

In other business, the board:

• wrapped up preparations for its series of public feedback meetings on facilities, the first pair of which were scheduled to take place Thursday night;

• voted unanimously to grant the use of Camden High School for a junior tennis tournament Oct. 9-11;

• agreed to have Morgan draft a letter for Chairman Ron Blackmon’s signature asking State Sen. Vincent Sheheen to request a traffic study on U.S. 1 in front of Lugoff-Elgin high and middle schools;

• received an attendance update from Morgan, during which he said there were 75 more students enrolled than projected, which is 125 more students than a year ago; and

• voted unanimously following a brief executive session to accept an undisclosed recommendation from Morgan on an employment matter.

The board will next meet Oct. 6 at 6 p.m. at Jackson Elementary School; all meetings are open to the public.

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