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HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — Hawkins Elementary School teacher Tyra Saucier says her third-grade language arts students have improved their test scores, ever since she got better at planning their lessons.
"My plans are more in-depth now," she said. "Before, my plans were random. They weren't so bad, but now my planning is explicit and detailed."
Saucier got input on her lesson planning after she received an M-STAR teacher evaluation from administrators at her school.
M-STAR stands for Mississippi Statewide Teacher Appraisal Rubric. The state Department of Education required public schools to begin using it last year so Mississippi could qualify for an exemption to the No Child Left Behind Act.
Hawkins Principal Donna Scott said M-STAR is more comprehensive than what Hawkins was using.
"The state had a (prior) evaluation piece, but it was basically a checklist," she said.
Scott said M-STAR has five domains and each domain encompasses several standards.
"It's better than a checklist," she said. "It helps teachers to be more focused and it helps administrators to be more focused."
The domains are planning, assessment, instruction, learning environment and professional responsibilities.
They measure teachers on such things as actively engaging students in the learning process, managing student behavior, planning lessons that align with the Common Core State Standards and maintaining communication with families.
The state requires administrators to do at least two walk-throughs in a classroom per year, along with one formal observation of at least 30 minutes.
At Hawkins, administrators do at least eight walk-throughs in various classrooms per week.
"There's never a week that goes by that we're not in someone's classroom," Scott said. "The teachers like getting the feedback so they can improve.
"If we see something good, we tell them. If we see something they need to improve, we use that as a learning opportunity."
Hawkins also does two more formal evaluations — one mid-year and one in the spring — although the state only requires one.
Scott said the teachers do not know when the walk-throughs or evaluations will happen, but they know an administrator could be in their classroom at any time.
"We like being in the classroom," Scott said. "It helps with discipline. The teachers are not caught off-guard (because we visit frequently). They do not feel stressed. They are accustomed to us coming."
Scott said the M-STAR is paying off because Hawkins' teachers are getting better at what they do.
"We have seen a lot of improvement in teachers, with teachers being more focused and intentional," she said. "They're looking at it as improving their teaching, not as 'oh no, it's evaluation time.'"
Petal High School Principal Steve Simmons said it wasn't so long ago that his school's teachers were told when their evaluations were coming.
He said that led to a "dog and pony show" by teachers who would step up their game to try to get a good evaluation.
"They would say, 'I'm going to do it right. I'm going to have group work. I'm going to do PowerPoint,' " he said. "You didn't get a true picture of what was going on in that classroom."
Simmons said about five or six years ago, he changed that.
"We started doing multiple walk-throughs," he said. "There may be 20 indicators that we look for. Me and my staff would average 15 walk-throughs a week per administrator, so that means we were doing 240 or so a month."
Simmons said administrators would also conduct three or four formal observations a week.
"(These are) unannounced," he said. "You stay the entire class period. We do more than 600 observations in a year's time."
Simmons said he wants his teachers to be used to having a watchful eye in the classroom.
"We want that culture in place where teachers expect us to be coming through," he said. "What we're doing is the most effective teacher evaluation system known to mankind.
"You may see a teacher 50 to 60 times in the course of a year. If a deficiency or weakness is noted, you can provide feedback or call them in for a conference."
Simmons said he doesn't use the M-STAR to a great degree. He easily meets the state's requirement of two walk-throughs and uses the information he gathers on the multiple walk-throughs to fill out the formal M-STAR evaluation.
Oak Grove High School Helen Price said the principals and teachers in Lamar County School District got to use the M-STAR a year earlier than anyone else, because they were part of a state pilot project.
Like Petal High School and Hawkins Elementary, the administrators at Oak Grove High frequently visit classrooms.
"We're in our classrooms a lot," Price said. "The students and teachers are encouraged by us being in the classroom. The students light up when they see us in there. It shows support."
Price said the M-STAR has resulted in better communication between teachers and administrators.
"It has created professional dialogue that makes us better — collaboration between administrators and teachers that seeks to make instruction better for everyone," she said. "We just didn't talk like that before."
— Minimum of five walk-throughs strongly recommended, but only minimum of two required.
— Two formal observations recommended, one required.
— Post-observation conference required; pre-observation conference recommended.
Domains and standards
— Domain I: Planning includes plans lessons that demonstrate knowledge of content and selects instructional goals that incorporate higher level learning.
— Domain II: Assessment includes collects and organizes data from assessments to provide feedback to student and adjusts lessons and instruction as necessary.
— Domain III: Instruction includes demonstrates deep knowledge of content during instruction and actively engages students in learning process.
— Domain IV: Learning Environment includes manages classroom space and resources effectively and maximizes time available for instruction.
— Domain V: Professional Responsibilities includes engages in continuous professional development and maintains effective communication with families.
Information from: The Hattiesburg American, http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com
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