Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Evaluate Me..Please...

Besides Race To The Top and NCBL the hottest topic in education has to be teacher evaluations. From how often a career teacher should be evaluated to if those evaluations should be based on student accountability and test scores, it seems as if there is a story everyday of some district somewhere that is embroiled in an evaluation mess.

Last night on #edchat, participants tried to tackle the tough questions surrounding teacher evaluations. Mainly what part should the teacher play in their evaluation? What should teacher evaluations look like? And what would should be included in those evaluations? It was an interesting discussion. Here is just a taste of what was said:

  • Assessment should come from a variety of sources including administration, students, peers, self, and key community members. Before any assessment takes place the right conditions/environment needs to be created. There needs to be mutual respect and an understanding that it's part of the learning process. The assessor and assessee need to establish a relationship if one doesn't already exist. Assessment needs to be frequent and less formal if it is to have its desired affect.
  • I think peer evaluation is important, particularly as an ongoing formative activity. One way to do it could be to focus on 2 or 3 specific issues each time, change them for future evaluations and then recycle to see how they've improved (or not). Input for the issues could come from either the evaluator and the teacher being evaluated -I believe teachers need to have an active role in their evaluation.
  • Some aspects to consider might be: the ability/way the teacher responds to students' participation, whether the teacher stays in the same physical spot or walks around the room and the effects of that,the use of the board (is easy for students to follow, is it too cluttered but clear anyway?is it over/under-used?); how does the T react when a student asks a question the T is not sure about, how do students react to this and what's the effect in the flow of the lesson? Does the lesson follow a discernable pattern; if so, what's the effect?; is there anything particular to note about classroom dynamics?
  • Not all teachers are comfortable with peer observation, so we have to build community FIRST to foster comfort and honest feedback.
  • Teachers who want to improve will ask their students to evaluate them. Critical incident reports, exit slips, anonymous surveys, etc

You can read more summarizing thoughts here and the archive here.

So what do I think...


Teacher evaluation systems are different all over the place. They can vary from state to state and even district to district. I do believe they all have good intentions. The goal is to make sure we have the best available teaching our kids. But yet while they all might have the same goal I would guess that most of them are flawed, some in a very major way.

I have only worked in one state so can only speak for the way things are here. Our teacher evaluation system is changing in North Carolina. It is going from probably the worst method to tolerable. Before teachers were observed, growth plans were examined and most teachers escaped with At Standard or Above. It was very, very subjective. If you had an administrator who you did not particularly mesh well with you might be faced with an Action Plan, meaning more work and more observations.

The state recognized there was a problem so they changed the system. Now it is based on evidences. If a teacher is believes they are Accomplished or Distinguished they have to prove it. Also in this model is a self-evaluation component. Again, this is a better model but there is still some subjectivity involved when the administrator goes to determine the overall ranking. And now with RTTT standardized test scores will be a part of that ranking.

For me there are some things missing.

Student Feedback

An administrator can walk into a room and will only ever see a snapshot of that room on that day at that time. How can that ever be used to determine how effective a teacher is? But who is with that teacher day in and day out? Kids. I know there are limitations but at least in the upper grades this should be taken into account.

Teacher Feedback

I was lucky when I was in the classroom. I had an administration that believed the teachers could best learn from each other. So we were able to visit other classrooms several times a year to see what other teachers were doing and to offer feedback. These were some of the most valuable for me because I got to see things I had heard about but also when I was observed I got some really awesome feedback for things I could do differently. Peer evaluations and conversations should be a big part of any evaluation system.

One thing is for sure. If we start to use standardized test scores as part of teacher evaluations we begin walking down a very dangerous road. Are all the kids we teach exactly the same? Do they come from the same backgrounds and home life and do they all learn the same? Until we are teaching robots who are all programed to think and act the same we might as well forget about using testing to evaluate teachers. I really believe we are headed for an educational crisis in this country because teachers are going to leave the classroom because they are judged on one test rather then their true ability to teach. I won't and would never stand for it an neither should you.

Teachers should be evaluated. But there has to be many factors that go into that evaluation. Just like we believe testing is a snapshot of the overall ability of a student, we have to look at the whole picture and take into account everything. After all our kids deserve the best, don't they?


  1. I teach in Texas (a state that opted out of RTTT). Houston ISD will be firing teachers based on scores. Also, some teachers received $10,000 bonuses for their students' scores. How fair is that? Personally, I wouldn't mind getting a $10,000 bonus, but at what cost? People complain about teaching to the test now. Just think what it will be like if there was $10,000 up for grabs?!

  2. I work in a district where the highest rating a teacher can be given is "Satisfactory." On elementary report cards, "satisfactory" is just above Needs Improvement and below Excellent and Good! I could be Teacher of the Year or just getting by with no complaints and either way, I'd receive "Satisfactory" on my review. How does this help or encourage me?

    If I'm reviewed based on three or more official visits every other year, with a pre-observation discussion first, how can it not become a dog & pony show, despite my determination that I will teach just as I always do?

    As part of a system (as opposed to teacher) evaluation, our district has begun doing learning walks. While all of the information generated has to do with what students are doing and/or understanding, having the data generated by a multitude of short observations of learning gives me an enormous amount of feedback that I can use to improve my teaching without ever having to have an official "post-observation" interview with my principal. Putting the use of this data in my hands is empowering in a way that handing me a write-up of a lesson observation never was.

  3. We just had one teacher get an unacceptable evaluation in part due to a video a student filmed of her discipling another student in a loud tone. What are teacher's rights with regards to getting videotaped without their consent? Our principal refuses to make a policy regarding students videotaping with cell phones but she did say that footage of teachers will not be used against
    them. Hmmm.


  4. I agree, teacher (like student) evaluations need to look at the whole picture. It seems to me that the systems currently in place don't allow for this.
    Thank you for the summary of the #edchat, missed it!