Timeline

The following is the timeline for implementing the new evaluation and compensation systems in Charleston County School District. The BRIDGE system will factor in the growth students make on standardized exams as part of their teachers’ evaluations.

2013-14

Those who teach core academic subjects, such as English, math, science and social studies, as well as principals and assistant principals, in 14 pilot schools will be evaluated under the BRIDGE system.

Professional development coordinators will work in 14 pilot schools to strengthen educators’ instruction.

2014-15

Teachers in 14 pilot schools will receive ratings based on their performance, and bonuses will be provided to some. There will be no change in educators’ base pay.

Core academic teachers and administrators in all schools will be evaluated with the BRIDGE system.

Personalized professional development would be offered at all schools.

The district would seek a waiver from the state to create a new salary structure that would reward quality and effectiveness rather than experience and education. Officials say no one will lose money.

2015-16

All teachers in all schools would be evaluated with the BRIDGE system.

The new salary structure would be implemented in 14 pilot schools.

2016-17

The new salary structure would be implemented across the district.

Teacher Patrick Hayes’ goal is to help every child who comes into his classroom.

The pilot year

The BRIDGE program will target 14 high-need schools this school year.

Each of the 14 schools will have a professional development or training coordinator to help teachers. The full-time staff member will be working and supporting them in the classroom to ensure they’re growing and have the skills they need.

Schools also will be part of a school-improvement network that can give teachers help in specific areas.

The pilot schools are Baptist Hill High, Blaney Elementary, Jane Edwards Elementary, Ellington Elementary, Minnie Hughes Elementary, North Charleston High, Military Magnet Academy, Morningside Middle, Burns Elementary, Hursey Elementary, North Charleston Elementary, Pinehurst Elementary, Midland Park Primary and Dunston Primary.

But what if Hayes’ evaluation and salary depended on how that child performed? Would that change Hayes’ relationship with the student? Would it motivate him to provide better lessons, or would the test score become more important than the child’s needs?

Those are questions Hayes and other educators likely would face if their evaluations and pay are tied to their students’ test scores.

“This changes the dynamic between teachers and students,” Hayes said. “The hope is it’s in a productive manner, but I’m not sure it will be. I’ve seen unproductive relationships when teachers are under pressure to produce test scores.”

The statewide and national debate about how to evaluate and compensate teachers based on their students’ performance is coming to Charleston County in a big way.

Teachers and administrators in 14 county schools will be judged this year based in “significant” part on how much progress their students make. The same system will be used for all teachers in all of the district’s 82 schools by 2015-16.

It’s a controversial issue that has drawn criticism from some teachers who point to research that highlights the flaws of gauging their worth by incorporating test scores. Others say this is a critical step to motivating teachers to be their best, giving them help where they need it, and rewarding them for their accomplishments.

District officials are moving forward with plans to implement BRIDGE, the district’s new evaluation and performance-based compensation systems, and they are gathering as much teacher feedback as they can.

“We’re proceeding as rapidly as we can but also thoughtfully,” said Audrey Lane, one of the district leaders responsible for BRIDGE. “We’re not rushing to anything. We’re trying to send the message that this is something we’re continuing to build.”

Bonus plan

The Charleston County School District is creating BRIDGE with the help of a $23.7 million, five-year federal Teacher Incentive Grant. Charleston was the only district in South Carolina to win the money, and it plans to use some of it to devise a formula to grade teachers and offer teachers training where they need it.

The second major part of the grant, and where the bulk of the funds will go, will reward high-performing teachers with bonuses.

By the 2016-17 school year, the district will use a new salary structure for all teachers that would recognize quality and effectiveness rather than longevity and degrees. Michael Ard, project director for BRIDGE, said no teacher would lose money.

This isn’t the first time the district has tried to create a new evaluation or compensation system, but this will be its biggest and most comprehensive effort thus far.

Separate from those local efforts, South Carolina is crafting a new performance-based teacher evaluation system for all teachers. The state has to create that system in exchange for a waiver from certain requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The state’s system is being tested in at least 47 schools in 14 districts, including Charleston. It’s not clear how BRIDGE will align with the state evaluation system, but Lane said she’s communicating with the state and they won’t conflict. Lane said the state is open to collaboration in the future.

Hiring help

In its proposal to the U.S. Department of Education, district officials gave specifics on how teachers would be evaluated, saying 50 percent of their scores would come from students’ growth.

They’ve backed off from that plan and said all that is up for discussion. They plan to give educators input until consensus is reached, and they want teachers to be able to understand the new system, Lane said.

“We’re in the development stage so all of those things are on the table,” Lane said.

They haven’t decided how the evaluation would be weighted, but they’re looking at using four factors: the state’s teacher evaluation system or ADEPT; classroom growth through value-added analysis; school-wide growth through value-added analysis; and a school-wide parent survey.

Teachers would receive an overall effectiveness rating, possibly “unsatisfactory,” “needs improvement,” “proficient” or “exemplary.”

Some of the trickiest parts will be figuring out how to measure students’ growth, as well as how to ensure that teachers buy in to that system.

The district is paying Mathematica $2.9 million to help it create an evaluation system that uses value added, or a statistical model that measures students’ learning for one year while adjusting for other factors, such as poverty, which could affect scores.

Mathematica will devise an algorithm to measure that growth for Charleston County teachers.

Charleston will be the fourth district the company has worked with on this issue, and Ard said that’s good for local educators, so “we don’t step in potholes that others made.”

The board didn’t sign off on the contract for Mathematica until July, but Ard said the company has experts working on this and the new evaluation system will be ready by Sept. 30. The federal TIF grant called for the BRIDGE evaluation to be piloted this year, and officials say that will happen.

“This is not a product you buy in a box and impose,” Ard said. “This is something folks have input. They get to say, ‘I have ownership in this.’ This is not something they brought in from Ohio.”

Teacher buy-in

A serious challenge will be getting district teachers to support BRIDGE’s evaluation and compensation components.

The Charleston Teacher Alliance, a local teacher advocacy group, surveyed 900 of the district’s 3,500 teachers during the 2012-13 school year about performance-based compensation and evaluation. More than 60 percent said in that survey that students’ growth from test scores should count for 20 percent or less of their annual evaluation.

And on the issue of pay, 46 percent supported maintaining the current salary schedule that rewards experience and education. Slightly more, 48 percent, said they supported bonuses if they were in addition to the current salary schedule. Less than 2 percent preferred a pay-for-performance salary structure that does not include raises for experience or education.

The school district is paying $1.3 million to a company, Battelle for Kids, to help it implement the new compensation system and communicate and market BRIDGE.

“It is their overall goal to make sure that we do a great job of communicating with our folks, and folks recognize what we’re doing,” Ard said. “Clarity and transparency, that’s what we want. We don’t want anyone to say, ‘What in the world is that?’”

Teachers, principals and administrators are part of a steering committee that’s reviewing the work from Mathematica and providing feedback. Draft proposals will be vetted to the district’s group of teacher leaders, the Teacher Roundtable, and teacher town hall forums likely will be held later this year.

Two perspectives

Patrick Hayes teaches third grade at Drayton Hall Elementary, and he’s been a part of the BRIDGE steering committee. Hayes started an education advocacy group, EdFirstSC, and one of its top issues is addressing teacher evaluation and merit pay proposals.

The school district is making a good-faith effort to solicit teachers’ opinions, but he has concerns with the concept of using performance to evaluate teachers. He compared it to communism: it sounds like a good idea but the “ugly reality is that it just doesn’t work.”

The methodology of value added has limitations, and he referenced one study that showed it was an unreliable measure with an error rate of up to 35 percent.

“We’re using this as a judgment on how people perform, and it doesn’t hold up,” he said.

Because some subjects and grades, such as kindergartners or art students, don’t have standardized exams, the district plans to develop individual learning goals for teachers relative to their subject. Hayes said that would be more valuable for teachers, and he questioned why that couldn’t be used for all teachers, rather than one with test scores.

He’s opposed to the idea of using school-wide performance for individual teachers’ evaluations.

BRIDGE is supposed to be about motivating, growing and rewarding teachers, but he said he didn’t know many teachers who aren’t already doing everything they can.

Others are more optimistic about BRIDGE. George White is an assistant principal at Morningside Middle, and he also serves on the BRIDGE steering committee. This is his first year as an administrator; he’s spent the last nine teaching, and he’s a former teacher of the year for his school.

As an administrator in a pilot school, he would be subject to the new evaluation system. He sees this grant as not just about evaluating educators, but also giving help and incentives to improve. As part of BRIDGE, his school has someone on staff who’s dedicated to facilitating the training and support for educators to be better teachers.

The district has set high goals as part of its Vision 2016 plan, and BRIDGE will help teachers improve to meet those goals, he said. Better teachers will help make students better, he said.

“It’s our job to make sure (teachers understand) what it is and how it’s going to benefit (them),” he said. “This is another instrument being used to elevate us.”

Teachers at Morningside already have been participating in a pay-for-performance system as part of a different federal grant, so this new system won’t be much of a change, he said.

Although he’s not worried about the new evaluation system, he said he understood some might be concerned because it’s new and different. But it’s not designed to punish teachers, he said.

“We use data to drive instruction, and we have seen progress,” White said. “We have to know where kids are to make a plan for where we want them to be, and we’ve been doing that.”

Although there’s not a perfect formula, he said test scores are a way to measure teachers’ performance.

“The data does not lie,” he said.

Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.