East Palo Alto Charter School: Teacher Evaluation « Center on Educational Governance (CEG)

East Palo Alto Charter School: Teacher Evaluation

East Palo Alto Charter School:
Teacher Evaluation

East Palo Alto Charter School

East Palo Alto, California
Founded 1997
415 students
Grades K-8
Aspire Public School (CMO)
86% Hispanic, 12% African-American, 1% Pacific Islander, <1% Asian, <1% White, <1% Other
52% English language learners
7% special needs
75% receive subsidized meals
Teachers not part of collective bargaining unit

Source: Center on Educational Governance, 2008.

Founded by community members in
1997, East Palo Alto Charter School was acquired in July 2003 by Aspire Public Schools, a charter management organization that currently operates 21 California schools.

EPACS’s teacher evaluation system consists of the teacher’s self-evaluation; the principal’s assessments during monthly formal classroom observations plus weekly informal classroom observations or “walkthroughs”; and the principal’s observations of the teacher’s behavior in team meetings and professional development sessions.

An end-of year evaluation and conference determines whether the teacher will continue employment the following year. (Aspire teachers have at-will employment.)


The principal carries out informal observations for each teacher every day and provides weekly written feedback. The form includes the date and time of the informal visit, the focus area and standards addressed, a list of observed instructional practices, and questions left for the teacher, who is required to respond within 24 hours via e-mail, in writing or in person. This provides ongoing communication about instructional practice between principal and teacher. 

Formal observations are held monthly. Beforehand, at a meeting, the principal asks the teacher a prescribed list of questions, such as what students should learn from the lesson and how the teacher will assess that. The principal and teacher choose which instrument will collect data during the observation, such as teacher/student verbal interaction, teacher response to students or time sweeps that identify students’ on-task and off-task behaviors.

During the hour-long visit, the principal records teacher and student actions and dialogue on her laptop. She also asks students questions that pertain to the lesson.  All the information is incorporated into the data collection/observation portion of the evaluation report.  The teacher completes a “reflection form” where she shares her perception of the lesson.

Within two days, principal and teacher meet for a post-conference that combines another protocol of questions with open-ended discussion. Afterwards, both sign and keep a form.

At EPACS, the reading coach, math coach, and grade-level lead teachers also observe classrooms regularly, to provide coaching to the teacher and reflections on performance to the principal.  

At year’s end, the Principal and teacher discuss and complete the Aspire Educator Rubric, which rates curriculum and instruction; learning environment; classroom management; assessment; and such Aspire values as “collaboration with others.” The principal then provides a final evaluation which determines the teacher’s retention.


The principal’s salary is the primary expense in teacher evaluation. Because the Aspire headquarters handles operational and compliance matters and the assistant principal covers discipline and special education, the principal’s job is primarily to monitor the instructional program.

Additional expenses include salaries for the reading and math coaches and stipends for the lead teachers. These staff members do not perform evaluations but are integral to professional development. The coaches’ positions are funded through grants and fundraising and could be eliminated.

Lessons Learned

When giving feedback, it is important to be “hard on the issues and soft on the person,” the reading coach said. Objective feedback focuses on the data collected, such as the behaviors of the students and teachers or the type or number of questions asked during a lesson.

Some teachers preferred direct feedback, where they are told what to improve, while others preferred a cognitive approach, in which the principal or coach guided the teacher in developing steps for improvement using listening and questioning strategies.

Finding the time to respond to feedback could be a challenge, some teachers said. Scheduling the post-observation conference expediently was a universal difficulty.

In order to avoid teacher overload, the principal, lead teachers and coaches meet once a week to debrief about teacher performance and classroom observations, consolidating the feedback.


All persons interviewed agreed that the largest impact of the teacher evaluation system had been on teacher behaviors.  When feedback or implementation steps were left for teachers, the principal, coaches, and lead teachers observed changes in behavior almost immediately.  Teachers were quick to incorporate specific recommendations into their practice or seek help from other colleagues.

In turn, the teachers felt support for their professional development, both from the principal and each other. “If there are goals or if someone is having trouble meeting a certain goal, then pretty much everybody pitches in to help,” one teacher said.

The ripple effect of positive practice changes means that student achievement scores have risen and the school has received various accolades for their successes. In 2006 and 2007, EPACS received an 819 and 837 respectively on the California Academic Performance Index, higher than the state performance target of 800. 


Center on Educational Governance
Rossier School of Education
University of Southern California
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Los Angeles, CA 90089-4039

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