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BISMARCK, N.D. - Teacher and principal evaluations were the most controversial topic in deciding whether to apply for a waiver to No Child Left Behind.

A committee of education officials voted in favor of applying for the waiver Aug. 15.

However, Bismarck Public Schools has done formal teacher evaluations since 2001, said Lisa Kudelka, human resource manager with BPS.

The district has been using a rubric, an outline to communicate expectations and grade those expectations, from a book called “Framework for Teaching” which was written by Charlotte Danielson in the mid-’90s. Last year, the district updated the system to match a newer version of the book. The new rubric will be implemented this year, Kudelka said.

Last year, the evaluations were moved online, she said.

The evaluations have four main areas: planning and preparation, classroom culture, actual instruction and professional responsibilities, she said. Each of the sections are broken down and teachers are graded as “unsatisfactory,” “basic,” “proficient” or “distinguished” on each component.

Achievement scores have not been used to evaluate teachers, Kudelka said. However, teachers are evaluated on their ability to use student assessment data in their teaching, she said.

In the past, evaluations of the district’s principals consisted of goal setting and determining whether the principals have met their goals.

This year, a new principal evaluation will be piloted in at least five schools, Kudelka said. Teachers will complete an anonymous online assessment of their building principal and the principal will answer the same questions about themselves. The superintendent also will fill out the same evaluation.

“We’re pretty excited about getting to pilot that,” Kudelka said.

The Bismarck School District is one of nine or 10 districts across the nation that will be part of a two-year Department of Education research project to see if the evaluation system has an impact on student growth. Since the Department of Education is funding the study, the pilot is free for the district, Kudelka said. The study is being carried out by the American Institute of Research.

At least five schools will participate in the pilot and six other schools are business-as-usual schools.

Kudelka, who attended a meeting in Washington, D.C., in May, said teacher evaluations are being discussed frequently on a national level. This is the first systematic, scientific study the Department of Education has done to find out if teacher evaluations affect student growth, she said.

Mandan Assistant Superintendent Jeff Lind said all North Dakota schools are required to do teacher and principal evaluations annually. During education officials’ first three years of employment, they’re required to have at least two evaluations per year, he said.

The waiver would require stricter evaluations that are also tied to student performance, Lind said.

Lind said Mandan’s teacher evaluations consist of observation of a teacher’s classroom: their technique and instructional methods as well as a working with teachers to set goals and determining whether the teachers meet those goals.

Administrators work with school principals to set goals and work with them to reach the goals throughout the year.

Lind said there are research-based models out there that some schools use but Mandan does not have a strict standard.

“Most of ours is based on informal goal setting and traditional summative types of evaluations,” he said.

If the waiver application is submitted and passed by the federal government, Mandan education officials will decide how to address the requirements, he said. As of now, Mandan’s teacher and principal evaluations are not tied to test scores.

“To my knowledge ... that’s true of all North Dakota schools,” he said.

Reach Mara Van Ells at 701-250-8251 or