NC Department of Public Instruction asks districts to refrain from conducting formal observations of online teaching

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As our classrooms sit empty and silent, North Carolina’s educators are working hard to adapt public education to the reality of an unexpected deadly pandemic.

Reinventing teaching and learning overnight is not an easy prospect. Not surprisingly, the work has included significant hiccups. Tech tools such as Zoom and Canvas are being taxed beyond their capabilities. So are many teachers who have relied for years on strong face to face relationships and physical resources to build a foundation for successful instruction.

Against this incredibly stressful backdrop, news is now emerging from a number of North Carolina school districts of plans to continue formal teacher observations for the North Carolina Educator Evaluation System (NCEES)–despite the fact that school buildings will remain closed through May 15 and possibly longer.

Informal drop ins by administrators to see what educators are doing in their classrooms are a normal and often quite useful part of teaching. Those interactions offer a safe opportunity to get valuable feedback which can lead to more effective teaching, and they could be especially helpful now.

However, many of the state’s teachers are concerned about having their teaching formally evaluated under these chaotic and unfamiliar circumstances, especially considering that the evaluation results can have an impact on whether or not they’re able to renew their teaching licenses and continue their careers as educators.

Fortunately, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction shares those concerns.

Late last week, this memo was provided to district superintendents and human resources departments via a Google-based system of folders which is reportedly filled with so much information that it can be quite difficult to navigate:

Regarding-NCEES-and-online-instruction-3-20-20

Additional clarification was provided yesterday to NC Senator Jeff Jackson by Wade Butner, who serves as Policy Advisor for the Office of the State Superintendent:

After consulting with the appropriate subject matter experts, NCDPI does NOT recommend or endorse conducting observations virtually as a part of the NC Educator Evaluation Process. This information has been communicated to districts via the EPP and Licensure FAQ. Please note the portion I have highlighted below:

Q: Some employees require a proficient evaluation in order to renew their licenses. How is the state modifying evaluation requirements given the COVID-19 pandemic?

A: State leaders have been made aware of the issues related to employee evaluation and the potential impact on teacher licensure. A decision on how the State Board of Education will meet the statutory requirement to evaluate teachers annually will require consultation with the General Assembly. At this time, we ask that LEAs/charter schools have some patience on this question and we will deliver guidance once a decision has been made. With that said, the state’s evaluation rubric has not been validated for virtual instruction. We ask that school systems not attempt to evaluate your teachers on instruction provided by virtual means.

Most recently, district superintendents were advised in a call with Deputy Superintendent David Stegall today that there is no provision in NCEES for evaluating teachers in an online learning environment.

It is completely understandable that many of us are reacting to this crisis by trying to adapt our normal routines to abnormal circumstances.

But what North Carolina educators need most of all right now is simply support and understanding–not one more thing to worry about.

As we navigate these turbulent, uncharted waters, clear and consistent communication between state and district is going to be indispensable in keeping us all on the same page and focused on doing the best work we can for North Carolina’s children.

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