By Kim Kalunian, WPRO News
Education Commissioner Deborah Gist spoke with Gene Valicenti on WPRO's Morning Show Monday about a letter sent to school superintendents last week. In the letter, Gist outlined the requirements of the Basic Education Program, or BEP, telling superintendents that “teacher assignment can no longer be based solely on seniority.”
The letter was dated Jan. 31, 2013, and since then, Gist has gotten a lot of heat from teachers who are opposed to the system. In the letter, Gist said that staffing decisions should be made primarily upon the best interests of students, and not seniority.
Gist told Valicent that she’s gotten a lot of feedback on the BEP over the past three years, noting that the Board of Regents began discussing the evaluation system standards in 2008, before she became Commissioner.
The BEP became law in July of 2010, and Gist said the letter was a reminder that changes are still underway.
"It's taken us more than three years because we didn't want to interrupt the existing contracts,” she said in an interview with Valicenti Monday. “That would have not been consistent with state law.”
Now, any Local Education Agency that uses job fairs to award teachers with seniority new assignments or “bumps” less senior teachers in the wake of layoffs will be considered in violation of the BEP mandates. Those in violation could face sanctions like the loss of certification.
"That letter was just reminding folks that we meant what we said and we were going to follow through with holding people accountable for making those changes," said Gist.
According to the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), under the BEP, all educators (teachers and school leaders) are evaluated annually under the current system. Evaluations examine teaching practices, professional responsibilities, and student growth and achievement.
When Valicenti asked Gist if the system would reflect negatively on teachers in certain school districts based on student proficiency, she said no, explaining that teachers are evaluated on student growth, and students are watched on a year-to-year basis for signs of improvement.
"We make sure we don't just evaluate based on straight proficiency because we know that students come into our classrooms with varying levels of background in subjects," she said.
The educators then receive one of four ratings: ineffective, developing, effective, or highly effective. The districts then use the evaluations to make subsequent personnel decisions; educators that receive “ineffective” ratings for two years may be terminated, while educators that are “ineffective” for five consecutive years will lose their teaching certification.
"We have for a very long time in education had evaluation systems, if they existed at all, that really indicated that everybody was doing a fantastic job, which didn't provide that meaningful feedback," she said .
Gist said evaluation systems are widely used to provide feedback to employees in other industries, and RIDE has a "very, very careful way” they’ve laid out their system.