Saturday, February 20, 2016

Considering Teacher Evaluation

It’s time to consider teacher evaluation. What practices lead to effective teaching outcomes? On what elements should a teacher be judged?

A most instructive starting point is to examine the broad principles and propositions for teacher evaluation put forward by the National Education Association (NEA), Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC), and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards’(NBPTS). I am not going to reproduce them all here; they can be read on pages 6-10 (PDF pages 12-16) of the NEA document “Teacher Evaluation: A Resource Guide for National Education Association Leaders and Staff.”

The big common themes among all three are:
  • Understands how learners grow and develop
  • Demonstrates in-depth content and professional knowledge
  • Understands and uses multiple and varied forms of assessment
  • Establishes environments conducive to effective teaching and learning
  • Integrates cultural competence
  • Develops collaborative relationships and partnerships
  • Provides leadership
  • Participates in ongoing professional learning
I see no reason to argue with those guidelines or attempt to innovate. They are justifiable professional standards that are clearly oriented to creating the conditions for effective teaching and learning, and they can hold teachers accountable in meaningful ways. They provide a cohesive and coherent professional context and sense of direction.

Undoubtedly, though, how assessors arrive at judgments about individual teachers is a different matter, needing a strong effort to achieve validity, minimizing bias and variability.  Clear, rigorous expectations, multiple measures, meaningful ratings, regular feedback and meaningful, actionable implications, all as defined by the New Teacher Project document “Teacher Evaluation 2.0,” are essential to the process. (I’ve been evaluated in other professional contexts and found processes that pretty well lack all these qualities!)

I was really impressed with the 2012 article in The Atlantic, “Why Kids Should Grade Teachers,” by Amanda Ripley. It shows that students’ evaluations of their teachers, collectively, are very accurately correlated with the results of other measures. I would be more than happy, as a teacher, to have my evaluators put significant weight on student evaluations. Of course, other data sources are necessary, to continue the validation of correlation.

I looked at the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, a measure of what value individual educators add to their students’ educational growth. For grades 4-8, the system measures the growth, gr 4-8, of a single student from one year to the next. It uses state test assessment data, with various factors to adjust and create “scale scores” that show a student’s performance in relation to other students across the state. The starting line is different for each child – it’s based on their previous year’s scores. Then teacher is evaluated based on results for all his/her students.

It’s all very rational. But I would be concerned about the amount of testing it requires, and how much such a system drives teachers towards teaching to the test, and pressuring students on that basis. Also, in my conversations with New York state public school teachers, I found a lot of frustration with teacher assessment based on student test scores. Two teachers spoke of being evaluated on testing that everyone acknowledges doesn’t even assess the subject matter the teachers teach. I can’t imagine Tennessee having solved this except at the cost of testing the students way too much, which has caused a great outcry in New York. I would want it to be put in a bucket along with in-person assessment by administrators and teacher peers, and student assessments.

I also looked at the Ohio Department of Education’s State Board of Education Approved Framework, and I liked how it offers an “alternative” assessment component that can include student surveys and student portfolios. If that alternative option is chose, the final summative evaluation draws on 50% teacher performance (as evaluated by school staff), 35% student growth measures (similar to Tennessee’s), and 15% alternative components. As for me, I’d be willing to up the percentage of the alternative measures.

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