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Evaluating Teachers: Controversial but Important

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The development of teacher evaluation systems is generating a lot of controversy around the country. Teachers in some states are very fearful of the effect these new systems might have on how they do their jobs or whether their employment will be at risk. Administrators are stressed about the time it takes to complete the process with each teacher. A leading Tennessee advocacy group, SCORE, prepared a study on that state's new system and recently released a report about the findings. Additionally, the Tennessee Department of Education, after significant input from stakeholders, presented a report to the legislature with suggested changes to the system. I highly recommend these reports to those of you who are considering, or might be in the future, creating a new teacher evaluation system.

For those who wonder whether we even need to be spending time on developing new evaluation systems I have an emphatic answer. Yes, we do! We need objective measurements to determine which teachers are doing a good job and which ones are not. We also must use these systems to drive professional development to help teachers grow and improve. Good teachers make it clear that they value the feedback they receive from evaluations and from people who observe their classroom practices. Lower-performing teachers, however, often believe they have been mistreated during an evaluation process. To ensure quality and effectiveness, evaluation systems must be fair and objective and based on multiple factors.

Unfortunately, many evaluation systems miss an important opportunity to ensure both quality and teacher buy-in when they fail to involve teachers in the systems' development and implementation. Yes, it is important to concentrate on the numbers, such as what weight to give to student performance. But teachers can provide the best advice on appropriate ways to measure performance. Luckily, here in Kentucky, our teachers are involved in developing our new evaluation system.

States and districts looking to replicate success should consider the system implemented in Montgomery County, Maryland. Teachers there play a huge role and have significant responsibility in evaluating other teachers.

Critics might contend: "That is the fox watching the henhouse!" But the opposite is actually true, according to former superintendent Jerry Weast. Montgomery County teachers are making sure there are quality teachers in the classrooms. They get help for those who need it and, when the help doesn't work, get rid of low-performing teachers. With significant union participation in the process, lawsuits (and costs) are minimized.

When teachers are part of the implementation process they are less fearful and take more ownership to ensure that the process works. They also ensure the integrity of the process. I believe that good teachers do not want bad teachers giving their profession a bad name. And as long as there are weak teachers in our classrooms it will be difficult to ensure the teaching profession receives the respect it deserves.

I encourage you to take a strong look at the model in Montgomery County. And let your local and state leaders know if the process there is one you think could work in your district and state.

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