GYPSUM, Colorado - The world's richest man used one of the world's most prestigious publications to praise the way local educators are measured and evaluated.Bill and Melinda Gates visited Eagle Valley High School in October. In an essay published in Saturday's Wall Street Journal, praised language arts teacher Mary Ann Stavney, along with the school district's performance pay program.Gates and his wife Melinda were in Stavney's classroom for a lesson in writing non-fiction narrative."She engaged her students, walking among them and eliciting great participation," Gates wrote in his Saturday essay. "We could see why Mary Ann is a master teacher, a distinction given to the school's best teachers and an important component of a teacher-evaluation system in Eagle County."Measuring successGates wove a theme of measurement through his essay, explaining how measuring performance and results are crucial to success. The Gates Foundation invests huge amounts of money aimed at improving the human condition around the world, and usually demands measureable results."In the past year, I have been struck by how important measurement is to improving the human condition. You can achieve incredible progress if you set a clear goal and find a measure that will drive progress toward that goal," Gates wrote. "This may seem basic, but it is amazing how often it is not done and how hard it is to get right."While measuring teacher performance worldwide is growing more widespread, more than 90 percent of educators in the U.S. still get zero feedback on how to improve, Gates wrote.Eagle County's school district launched its performance pay program more than a decade ago. Teachers earn salary increases and bonuses based largely on student performance. Teachers and staff are paid up to 2 percent of their annual salary as a bonus - if they meet performance criteria including student achievement - instead of lock-step raises based solely on years of service, explained Brian Childress, the school district's human resources director.Teachers work in groups and with master and mentor teachers. That has shifted the district's teachers away from solo practitioners to groups of teachers, Childress said.The school district spent $750,000 on performance pay bonuses in 2010-11.Eagle County's 470 teachers are evaluated three times and are observed in class at least nine times by master teachers, their principal and peers called mentor teachers, Gates wrote."I think the most critical change we can make in U.S. K-12 education, with America lagging countries in Asia and Northern Europe when it comes to turning out top students, is to create teacher-feedback systems that are properly funded, high quality and trusted by teachers," Gates wrote.Eagle County Schools is one of 13 school districts pioneering a statewide educator performance evaluation system.The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation donated $5.9 million to support the Colorado Legacy Foundation's Colorado Integration Project.Gates is the co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the co-founder of Microsoft. Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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