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Teacher Evaluations

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I caught Secretary Duncan on NPR this week talking about teacher evaluations and other key issues surrounding education reform. Secretary Duncan talked about several studies that were recently featured in Education Week. The studies major findings that teacher evaluations reflect a Lake Wobegon effect. Almost 99% of teacher evaluations studied reflect teachers were at or above average. In other words, all of the teachers being evaluated are meeting or exceeding standards. Sec. Duncan's question rings true - if all of our teachers are meeting or exceeding standards then there is little to no variation in teacher distribution. Another more distrubing question is this - if all of our teachers are meeting or exceeding standards, then why are many students failing or dropping out of school.

About the same time Sec. Duncan was talking about teacher evaluations and the need to improve evaluations, I was having end of year reviews with principals in our system. Our school system deployed new teacher and principal evaluation instruments this year. During the end of year reviews, the conversation focused on performance of the school in the areas of student learning and how professional development impacted student learning. Also, I asked a great deal about how the principals used the teacher evaluation instrument to analyze the variability in student learning among and between teachers at the same grade level and subject. What I discovered was our principals needed more coaching and support to have these conversations with teachers.

Also, last week I was working with leaders from several different states and discovered that some states do not allow the connection of student learning data with teacher evaluation data. While NC does not prohibit this use, it is certainly only one part of a comprehensive teacher evaluation instrument.

While Sec. Duncan seemed to focus on the need to evaluate teachers and find out those who are low performing, I would prefer we focus on an improvement instrument for teachers and principals, By connecting the key instructional strategies that impact student learning and then providing focused professional development, coaching and support, I believe that 95% or more of our teachers can be successful. Why 95%? That is the core philosophy of a systems based approach. In most cases, it is not the people that are the problem. It is not the people that are creating the variation in a process. It is the system and the process itself. For our system, we will focus on the process of teacher evaluation and provide principals with the coaching and support needed to continue to improve student learning outcomes. NC has focused standards for school boards, superintendents, principals and teachers that are systems based and focus on continuous improvement.

Terry Holliday
Superintendent - Iredell Statesville Schools
2008 Baldrige National Quality Award Recipient

5 Comments

Ugh! All the talk of systems, and improvement, and accountability, and scores as proof of teacher effectiveness, is just all talk!

Teachers need to be able to teach. We don't need to compare scores! We don't need blanket staff development; some teachers may want or need it, but not all, not by a long shot.

School administrators need to get off their high-horse and stop claiming that they (when they really mean teachers) will figure out a way to close the achievement gap with new research-based curricula and charter schools!

Our children need to be talked to, cared for, fed, clothed, loved, and then we can worry about changing our public school system, because it is society that is broken, not schools!

Save your breath for a student!

At Godfrey-Lee Public Schools in Wyoming, Michigan, we recently concluded a complete revamping of our administrator and teacher evaluation system, based on the principles of professional practice by Charlotte Danielson. We are excited about moving away from the old checklist format that served no purpose but to maintain the status quo. Our new system is built around professional growth models and includes a peer observation component. We will be implementing the new system this coming school year.

I agree Terry and well put. Evaluations in general, for teachers or administrators, is a joke in far too many places. You referenced a study in your statements that 99% of teacher evaluations show teachers are either at or above average. I believe the same could be said for administrator evaluations. There is a culture in too many schools where we are use to getting high marks in every area. When an area of improvement is pointed out, whether it be for a teacher or administrator, it can be taken as a slap in the face. That is a culture that needs to change in education. If it is normal to point out areas for improvement to students, and we talk about being life-long learners, why should it be any different for the adult educators?

It is interesting that the teachers' union is not cited as a possible reason for the high percentage of teachers receiving high marks on their evaluation forms. Giving teachers less than satisfactory marks on the evaluation form requires administrators to produce a lot of documentation of less-than-mediocre behaviors and practices observed over a significant period of time. At the school I came from, even the worst teachers received a score of at least 3 (i.e. proficient) because the administrators just didn't want to deal with the headache of justifying anything lower, nor did they want to put themselves in a position of having to defend themselves to the union. While teaching, it became clear to me that the union in my state was aggressive in protecting teachers, almost to a fault. This is not to say that unions don't have their place; I would just be curious to know if that is another reason 99% of teachers are receiving high marks on their evaluations.

I am a principal of a middle school, and I agree that principals need help in developing skills related to talking to teachers about their strength and weaknesses. However, I think it is much larger than that. I think that in general, people do not naturally know how to give constructive criticism or have a conversation where they wish to help others to improve. I personally recognize this in myself and peers, and wish that instead of another training on the latest trend, I could spend quality time practicing having hard conversations with teachers, like the Crucial Conversation process, or a coaching alternative. That seems like it would be in improvement in "process" that would make the "content" initiatives much more effective. The key is lots of practice, not just taking notes!

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Recent Comments

  • Molly Hart: I am a principal of a middle school, and I read more
  • JMagee1: It is interesting that the teachers' union is not cited read more
  • Jeff Jones: I agree Terry and well put. Evaluations in general, for read more
  • David Britten: At Godfrey-Lee Public Schools in Wyoming, Michigan, we recently concluded read more
  • TFT: Ugh! All the talk of systems, and improvement, and accountability, read more

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