ScIPsOur state’s new system of principal and teacher evaluation has introduced yet another set of acronyms and initialisms into the education lexicon. First there were DEACs, and no doubt you’ve heard plenty about SGOs and SGPs. Now it’s time for ScIPs.

The 2012 TEACH NJ Act (Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey) provided the impetus for the new evaluation system and the formation of a School Improvement Panel (ScIP) in every school building. ScIPs are tasked with ensuring the evaluation procedures, including those for Corrective Action Plans (CAPs), are implemented, identifying professional development opportunities for staff members, and overseeing the mentorship of new teachers at the building level.

So, just what is a School Improvement Panel?

The ScIP is a school-based committee that must include the school principal or designee, an assistant/vice principal and a teacher. The principal may appoint additional members to the ScIP as long as the teacher on the panel represent at least one-third of its total membership. Teacher members may comprise majority membership on the ScIP.  . All members of the ScIP must be chosen by Aug. 31 of each year.The appointment of teachers to the ScIP is made by the principal in consultation with the local education association. Each appointee must have (beginning in the academic year 2015-16) an effective or highly effective rating in the most recent annual summative rating. Teachers must serve a full academic year, except in the case of illness or authorized leave, but may not be appointed more than three consecutive years.

Responsibilities of the ScIP

As described in the TEACHNJ Act, ScIPs should:

  • Provide oversight of and support for the mentoring program.
  • Conduct evaluation of teachers. To conduct observations for the purpose of evaluation, the teacher member(s) must have:
    • Permission of the local association
    • An appropriate supervisory certificate and
    • Approval of the principal who supervises the teacher being observed. (A teacher member who participates in the evaluation process must not serve concurrently as a mentor.)
    • Ensure the creation of corrective action plans (CAP)s and mid-year evaluations for teachers on a CAP.
    • Identify professional development opportunities for all teaching staff members based on the review of aggregate school-level data, including, but not limited to, educator evaluation and student performance data. If the teachers serving on the ScIP do not have the approval of the local association to participate in individualized evaluation activities, they should only receive aggregated data and no information that reveals the identity of the colleague. Under the same circumstances, the teachers also should not participate in any discussion of a colleague’s evaluation.

What do the responsibilities of the ScIP look like in practice?

Under the new system, the school-level professional development plan will now be created and implemented by the school principal in consultation with the ScIP. Because school-based professional development committees (SPDCs) are no longer required, the principal will have the flexibility to:

  • Use the ScIP in place of the SPDC
  • Maintain the SPDC to support the ScIP or
  • Maintain the SPDC and appoint qualified member(s) to serve on the ScIP.
The district-level professional development plan will now be created and implemented by the superintendent in consultation with other staff. Because local professional development committees (LPDCs) have also been removed from the regulations, superintendents will have the flexibility to:
  • Maintain an LPDC;
  • Re-purpose the District Evaluation Advisory Committee (DEAC), which is no longer required after the 2016-17 school year; or
  • Create new structures to oversee professional development at the district level.

The district-level plans must also provide professional development opportunities for school leaders (principals and assistant/vice principals).

The mentoring/induction plan formerly created by the LPDC will now be the responsibility of the superintendent in consultation with other staff; principals are responsible for implementation of the plan in their buildings. District mentoring plans must address the needs of novice teachers and experienced teachers new to the district. It should also ensure all new teachers receive orientation to district policies and training on the evaluation system.

The New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) has suggested possible activities of the ScIP in addition to those required responsibilities outlined in law and code. Additional suggested activities include:

  • Supporting the principal in creating the schedule of observations
  • Monitoring the progress of observations and conferences to ensure they are occurring according to schedule
  • De-briefing observers’ experiences after co-observations and suggesting activities to promote inter-rater reliability
  • Reviewing school-level evaluation data (Student Growth Objectives and median Student Growth Percentiles) and reporting any findings and trends to the DEAC and district administration in order to inform district goals
  • Examining SGOs for rigor and suggesting approaches for further strengthening goals
  • Communicating with the DEAC and district administration regarding district-wide directives and initiatives
  • Supporting school-level training on the district’s teacher practice instrument; and
  • Identifying individual (where appropriate), group, and school-level PD needs and opportunities based on observation and achievement data and feedback from teachers and administrators.

NJEA on the ScIP

First and foremost, NJEA’s current policies prohibit peer evaluation. NJEA strongly encourages each local president to ensure that no teacher participates in or provides any information that could contribute to the evaluation of any staff member. Teacher members of the ScIP should only receive aggregate data from an evaluation and are not to participate in or be present for any discussion of an individual teacher’s evaluation. It is also recommended that the local president inform the superintendent and school principals in writing that the local association does not approve peer evaluation and believes, therefore, that teacher members of the ScIP should not participate in or conduct any type or form of evaluations.

What can teacher members of the ScIP do?

 ScIP members should become experts on evaluation policies and supports for other teachers. They must always remember they are representing all teaching staff members in the school. They are there to ensure teachers have a strong voice and significant opportunity to help shape evaluation procedures within each school. Teacher representatives should help to ensure open communications and opportunities for feedback among colleagues.

NJEA believes ScIP teacher members have an opportunity to promote high-quality professional development and mentoring. To fulfill this role, they should:

  • Learn about and advocate for best practices in PD and mentoring
  • Remain in close contact with the local association and members
  • Know the collective bargaining agreement
  • Work with the local to survey members regarding PD needs
  • Lead by example
  • Exhibit a professional commitment to colleagues
  • Demonstrate collaboration with colleagues; and
  • Ensure transformation of policy and practice.

It is now the responsibility of the ScIP to identify professional development opportunities for all instructional staff in the school. To assist with this task, teacher members must request data regarding percentages of staff experiencing difficulty with a particular area of the evaluation model. Remember--data must not reflect information regarding individual need and/or performance. The local association should also survey members in each building regarding the unique needs of their students and their own unique needs for professional development.

The TEACHNJ Act requires a mentoring program that is research-based and pairs effective, experienced teachers with first-year teachers to provide observation and feedback and opportunities for modeling. The program must enhance knowledge and strategies regarding academic standards, identify exemplary skills and practices, and assist in performance of duties and adjustment to the challenges of teaching.

The Department of Education has proposed new regulations, since the TEACHNJ Act requires a mentoring experience for teachers new to the school district as well as those new to the profession. Those who already hold a standard certificate and are new to the district do not require an individual mentor. Rather, the regulations require an ongoing orientation experience that can be implemented by a team of both administrators and teachers. Only those teachers new to the profession require an individual member be assigned to them.

The teacher members of the ScIP need to advocate for a mentoring program that is comprehensive, differentiated, confidential, non-evaluative, collaborative, and supported by the district with training, job-embedded time, and proper funding.

Alternate-route teachers will require minimally all of the items listed above and instruction in pedagogy.

ScIP teacher members need to advocate for a mentoring program that is comprehensive, differentiated, confidential, non-evaluative, collaborative, and supported by the district with training, job-embedded time, and funding.

How will NJEA assist ScIP members?

The full time staff of NJEA’s Professional Development and Instructional Issues division will hold meetings for ScIP and DEAC members as well as selected local leaders throughout the year in each county. These meetings may be titled “ScIP Support” or “PD Councils.” Contact your county office for meeting dates, locations, and times. The purpose of these sessions is to provide information as it becomes available. The NJEA staff members will facilitate discussions surrounding implementation in each local and how these individuals can network to ensure the proper functioning of the committees and implementation of the regulations with fidelity. Members are encouraged to build a network of these committees that will rely on each other and network around specific issues pertaining to the evaluation system as they arise.  

NJEA is also ready to assist with efforts to broaden the understanding of what defines quality professional development. Research reveals that the best professional learning is job embedded, tied to improved student learning, continuous and ongoing, connected to specific goals and needs that are achievable, and provides multiple experiences and opportunities. Many of these components are best achieved through sustained collaborative Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). Responsibilities of PLCs should include collegial coaching, creation of common assessments, analysis of data, cooperative lesson planning, and sharing of best practices/strategies.

NJEA members and leaders must seize this opportunity to guide an evaluation system that will be truly effective for all members.

Judy Laning is an NJEA associate director of professional development and instructional issues. She can be reached at jlaning@njea.org.