A User's Guide to

Peer Assistance and Review

  • What is PAR?
  • Costs and benefits of PAR
  • Designing your PAR project
  • Labor-management relations
  • Practical issues and advice

PAR in Cincinnati: Relying on Standards-Based Evaluation

Cincinnati Public Schools
Number of students: 36,872
Number of teachers: 2,357
Year program began: 1985
Program Type: Novice, Intervention
Length of CT term: 3 years
Title of CT Role: Consulting Teacher
Name of PAR Panel: Peer Review Panel
Composition of Panel: 5 teachers, 5 administrators

A Consistent Champion of PAR

Tom Mooney first proposed PAR on behalf of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers’ (CFT) in 1983 and continued to champion the promise of PAR until he died in 2006, while serving as president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers. Over those 23 years, Cincinnati made steady progress in establishing PAR as an effective standards-based program.

Tom MooneyTom Mooney, former CFT President

Mooney was impressed with Toledo’s model and convinced Cincinnati teachers to support his PAR proposal in 1983, despite a long history of combative labor relations, a school board that generally opposed the union’s role in education, and principals who fought the idea because they were sure that they would lose authority under PAR. Mooney managed to build an effective working relationship with Superintendent Lee Etta Powell, who also became a staunch believer in PAR. At the time, people said that Mooney succeeded because he was widely respected as a principled and creative leader, who ultimately was committed to improving schools for students. The initiative quickly garnered public attention, with the Cincinnati Post endorsing the CFT’s efforts: “The Cincinnati Board of Education is trying to negotiate a labor contract with the teachers’ union. The Cincinnati Federation of Teachers is trying to negotiate a new way of making policy for the public schools.”

Tim KrausTim Kraus, CFT President, 2008

In 1985 PAR was approved early in negotiations, although the sides continued to battle over other issues. Once implemented, support for the program grew steadily. At the end of the first year, a survey of principals revealed that they had come to value PAR, and their support continued to grow in the second year when PAR expanded to include veteran teachers. Teachers, too, widely endorsed the program, which offered attractive roles for especially skilled individuals: 70 applied for 10 CT positions during the second cycle of PAR.

Rosa BlackwellRosa Blackwell, Superintendent, 2008

Cincinnati’s PAR Program developed and became more firmly established over the next decade. In 1994, under Mooney’s leadership, the CFT developed a radical proposal for a pay system that would compensate teachers based on their evaluations. Soon after Mooney moved to head the union’s state office in Columbus, his appointed successor was defeated in a presidential election by an opponent who argued that the evaluation system in place at the time did not provide an adequate basis for making decisions about merit or pay. Subsequently, the teachers rejected the pay plan and called instead for a revised approach to evaluation. Work on that plan, now called the Teacher Evaluation System (TES), began in 1997. Its current version serves today as a strong foundation for Cincinnati’s PAR program, which continues to be well-supported by the current union president, Tim Kraus, a long-time friend and colleague of Mooney’s.

The Teacher Evaluation System (TES)

Julia Indalecio,
Teacher Programs ManagerJulia Indalecio, Teacher Programs Manager

Cincinnati teachers and administrators alike talk knowledgably about what they call “The Placemat,” a chart including the standards, sub-standards, and rubrics of TES. The program was developed with assistance from evaluation expert Charlotte Danielson and first used in 2000. All new and struggling experienced teachers in PAR are observed and evaluated in four domains of practice:

  • Planning and preparing for student learning,
  • Creating an environment for learning,
  • Teaching for learning, and
  • Professionalism

Cincinnati has invested heavily in training teachers and administrators to use TES and there is now a common understanding about what the standards mean and what they look like in practice. As one Panel member said, “Before we just had what we thought good teaching was. Now you have a set of standards that tells you what good teaching is.”

Angela RoddyAngela Roddy, Teacher Evaluation System Facilitator

All CTs wear two hats, one as PAR consulting teacher and one as TES evaluator for non-PAR teachers undergoing their required five-year comprehensive evaluation. When CTs work with teachers wearing their PAR hat, they offer intensive assistance to help those teachers meet standards. As in other districts, they eventually recommend whether the teachers they have assisted should be reappointed or dismissed. A novice teacher being reviewed by a CT must attain scores of Basic or better on all domains of TES in order to be renewed. When the CTs wear their TES hat with non-PAR teachers, they provide no assistance, instead visiting classes only to gather evidence and assess whether the teachers meet the standards.

Assigning teachers to Intervention under PAR also depends on TES scores. Any teacher who does not meet the standards—either during an annual evaluation by an administrator or a Comprehensive Evaluation by a teacher evaluator—may be placed on PAR and receive intensive assistance from a CT. If, after assistance, the teacher fails to meet the TES standards, she may be recommended for dismissal by the PAR Panel.

The CT: A Specialized and Demanding Role

Lesley-Ann Gracey,
CFT Professional Issues RepresentativeLesley-Ann Gracey, CFT Professional Issues Representative

Being a CT in Cincinnati is a serious matter. The positions are in high demand, with as many as ten applicants for each slot. Only those who have achieved high ratings under TES are eligible, and those who are selected must demonstrate consistently outstanding teaching. CTs’ training is intense and ongoing, including in-depth practice in how to collect evidence during a classroom observation and how to translate that evidence into an assessment about the teacher’s level of performance. Superintendent Rosa Blackwell said, “If we choose the right teachers who are knowledgeable and have the experience in their content areas, you can’t have a better group of people out in the field working with their colleagues. They know what they are looking for. They know what should happen.” All new evaluators are assisted by experienced CTs as they practice assessing teachers’ practice in videotaped lessons and live classes. Before becoming CTs, they must pass two assessments, one on gathering evidence and another on determining the levels of a teacher’s performance.

Once on the job, CTs participate in bi-weekly “norming sessions” where they discuss standards and rubric language in detail. These sessions, run by program director Julia Indalecio, ensure that the expectations for evaluation are consistent. As one administrator explained, “They go through a lot of calibration to make sure that your #4 and my #4 are the same #4 that the paper says.” An entire session may center on achieving agreement about what constitutes an “instructional rationale,” required to progress from Proficient to Distinguished. This ongoing process of training and calibrating the use of TES standards prepares CTs to work with teachers and to explain their judgments. One CT explained why this intense preparation is worthwhile: “Every time you meet with them after an observation, they have a placemat and you’re going through and having them mark on the placemat, so they know exactly what their scores are.”

The CTs eventually prepare evaluative summaries for the PAR Panel, who expect extensive documentation and may question their decisions. It takes a lot of time to develop a strong case to support each of their recommendations to the Panel, but CTs say that the thoroughness of the process reassures them and others that PAR is an objective and even-handed process. “There are,” as many individuals said, “no surprises.”