Katy Morris, an eighth-grade algebra and geometry teacher at Welsh Valley Middle school in Narberth, is out to revolutionize how teachers experience the evaluation process.
This past school year, Pennsylvania adopted a new statewide teacher evaluation system – due in part to an incentive in the federal Race to the Top school accountability competition.
The new system, known as the “Danielson Framework,” breaks teacher competency down into four domains that incorporate 22 components containing a total of 76 specific criteria elements.
On each element, administrators assess teachers on a three-tiered scale, judging them to be basic, proficient or distinguished.
For many teachers, the evaluation process can be among the most stressful parts of the job.
In reaction to the new system, Morris started tinkering with some ideas based on her techie background.
“I had been a programmer before and I was like, ‘I’m going to figure this out,'” she said. “So I kind of just ginned up the idea of having a way to use your camera to take pictures of things in your classroom and then kind of cross-check it with the list of things we have to satisfy.”
After four months of tinkering in her spare time, Morris came up with is an iPhone app called CYA Teacher Eval Tool that allows teachers to make their “proof” pocket-sized.
“I just wanted to have a way to take photos, quickly snap things in my classroom — bulletin boards, examples of students’ work, different versions of quizzes or tests that I made up, activities,” she said. “And I wanted to just keep track of that and have a way to line it up with these criteria, the framework for the evaluation.”
In addition to providing easy reference to the Danielson Framework, the app provides suggestions on how to fulfill each requirement, and helps teachers manage activities that coordinate with multiple criteria.
“If I start at the beginning of the year, then I won’t have to remember everything that I’ve done when the end of the year rolls around,” Morris said. “I’ve kind of got a running tally.”
Welsh Valley assistant principal Scott Weinstein – who evaluates Morris – loves the app, especially the fact that it gets teachers thinking and talking about improving their craft.
“It gives multiple opportunities for teachers to go in there and familiarize themselves with the language of the ‘Framework for Teaching,'” he said. “And I think the more teachers are doing that and looking at their work, and reflecting and comparing it with the rubric, I think the more room there is to grow.”
Weinstein praised the app specifically for helping teachers show evidence for the two domains within the Danielson Framework that can’t be directly observed by administrators — “planning and preparation” and “professional responsibilities.”
Morris, who has given the app away to many of her colleagues, has received positive feedback. She’s now selling it in the Apple app store for $2.99.
Now she’s thinking about designing an app specifically tailored to help administrators keep better track of all of their evaluations.
So could this be the tale of teacher turned app mogul?
“I think that’s a little ambitious, a little more ambitious than I expect,” she said with a laugh. “But I’m not going to say I wouldn’t love that. I like the teaching business, but being an app mogul sounds pretty good.”