Old News – Schools Have Dropped The Ball On Teacher Evaluation

Before I get into the specifics on this, I will put out a disclaimer that there may be outliers who feel that they have a meaningful process for conducting teacher evaluations.  I am confident that there are some school communities out there who have initiated teacher evaluation processes that increase teacher capacity and improve student learning. Unfortunately, history has proven that these school communities are extremely rare.

One great reference point on this is a report completed in 2009 by The New Teacher Project titled The Widget Effect.  This comprehensive study looked at 15,000 teachers and 1,300 administrators from the states of Ohio, Arkansas, Illinois, and Colorado. Here are the main points from the Executive Summary that are worth some thought:

  • In districts that use binary evaluation ratings (generally “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory”), more than 99 percent of teachers receive the satisfactory rating. 
  • When all teachers are rated good or great, those who are truly exceptional cannot be formally identified. 
  • 73 percent of teachers surveyed said their most recent evaluation did not identify any development areas, and only 45 percent of teachers who did have development areas identified said they received useful support to improve.
  • 66 percent of novice teachers in districts with multiple ratings received a rating greater than “satisfactory” on their most recent performance evaluation
  • 41 percent of administrators reporting that they have never “nonrenewed” a probationary teacher for performance concerns in his or her final probationary yea

Looking at the data from such a comprehensive study it is clear that Teacher Evaluation has been looked at as just another thing on the lengthy to-do list in most schools instead of a critical component in school improvement. We can talk semantics and look at the word “evaluation” and the fact that it infers that something is going to be done to the individual being evaluated and not a two-way conversation where teachers and administrators work together to collectively to improve individual classroom and school-wide outcomes.

The following statement from the Executive Summary of the The Widget Effect  explains clearly where the focus of teacher evaluation has been:

“…information on teacher performance is almost exclusively used for decisions related to teacher remediation and dismissal paints a stark picture: In general, our schools are indifferent to instructional effectiveness—except when it comes time to remove a teacher.”

Schools that have success in changing this focus and having a teacher evaluation that is meaningful will be ones where administrators and teachers partner to ensure regular focused discussions around teaching and learning.  Given the amount of collaboration in most schools, this will prove to be a cultural change as much as it is a technical change.  However, with studies citing the average tenure of a school superintendent or principal in the vicinity of three years (with larger districts and schools averaging less), it is clear to me that if administrators are taking too much control then sustainability will be impossible.

Now that I’ve looked at a bit of the history surrounding teacher evaluations and despite some big concerns, I will focus on some of the reasons I am optimistic about this undertaking in my next post.

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