Catching the Wave of School Reform:
Teacher Evaluations: Are We on the Verge of a New Day or a Great Disaster
Over the past two years, many state legislatures have passed new legislation imposing on school districts a new method for evaluating their teachers. These new evaluation methods are often required conditions of tenure, pay, and at times ordering who should be laid off when funds are low. In other words, there is a lot riding on making the evaluations fair and accurate.
Unfortunately, most of the public debate and attention has been focused on the use of student achievement data as part of the evaluation process. Depending on the state, up to 50% of the evaluation is supposed to be based on a teacher’s students’ test scores. Because those tests have so many problems, the debate has been intense – to the exclusion of serious thought or planning about what else goes into evaluation process.
In most states, the other 50+% of an evaluation is to come largely from observations of teachers, either directly or through videos or the examination of portfolios, similar to what is submitted for National Board of Professional Teaching Standards certification. But are principals or master teachers ready to make those evaluations? Do they know what good teaching is supposed to look like? And do they know how to conduct a rating so that two teachers, when rated by different people, are going to earn the same score?
Everyone familiar with education understands the size of the problem. Many districts have never bothered to define what good teaching is supposed to look like. They have rarely had principals who are trained as education leaders. And almost no one has historically had to be so accurate in his or her teacher evaluations because prior to these new laws, the stakes surrounding whatever observations were made were so much less significant.
Moreover, in the face of widespread and significant budget cuts, there is likely to be little, if any, money to conduct such training. Rather, district after district has promised to protect “the classroom,” to the detriment of almost every other part of its budget, which means that whatever money may have been set aside for training evaluators may have been grabbed for another purpose.
When reports have appeared in newspapers about districts’ preparations for the new world, they often include the brief comment that principals and other evaluators have received a day or two of training. But that leaves a nagging question: Is that training good, and is it enough, especially with so much riding on getting evaluations right? And what about those places where there is not even a day or two?
So here is the question I’d like to pose to every incumbent administrator, master teacher, and current graduate student in education administration: Have you received enough training to be confident that you can carry out your obligations to evaluate teachers thoroughly and fairly, consistent with the law’s requirements in your state? And, if you have, describe that training so that those who have not been so lucky can explain to their professors or superintendents what they need to do their job.
Let’s discuss what’s happening out there. I’m looking forward to your responses, and the dialogue that I hope will follow.