Teachers and Leaders: Question the Meaning and Purpose of Evaluation
Understanding the value-laden meanings of commonly used words like evaluation and assessment is critical for change. The judgmental associations of these terms are deeply rooted...Arthur Camins
We find ourselves in a time when no matter the intention of the assessment of performance, whether of student, teacher, or principal, the result is an evaluation that is most often received as a judgment of and a stopping place for the evaluated.
Teachers observe students all the time. Observations are usually mentally noted. Sometimes they are entered on a rubric, spreadsheet, or are kept as running records. The good thing about these observations is they are opportunities to observe students' learning in action. They don't carry the emotional weight of a number or grade; rather they carry information for the teacher to share with the students about how to be a better learner. If handled well, the student doesn't experience judgment or labeling. They experience receiving information that they can use to add to their learning repertoire.
More formal evaluation takes place through formative and summative types of evaluations. However, more often than not, the formative evaluations are used in a summative fashion. For example, if a quiz is given to check for understanding during the journey toward mastering a concept, it is graded and placed in the grade book isn't it? How does that promote motivation for doing better or understanding what needs to be learned? It doesn't. With the exception, perhaps, of the most competitive and able students who are focused on being 'the best' and receiving the highest score possible, the rest can be disheartened; it is evidence of what they can not do and proof that they can not do better.
Formative assessment should be designed and used to offer evidence of how much a student has or hasn't learned and how to build the learning opportunities that will aid and support the students as they move toward success. Ironically each is only a one-time snapshot of the students' knowledge, a common argument against the use of standardized tests. Rationale may rest in the fact that the students will have another chance to show that knowledge either in a spiraled formative assessment to come, or on the summative assessment. But the grade remains and the students hold all the feelings that come with a grade. Not doing well is not an established motivator for doing better.
Teacher and Principal Evaluation
In the past, the evaluations were designed and conducted according to practices or contracts established in each community. Now, because of Race to the Top (RTTT) more schools and districts across the country have similar formats and practices from which to establish the evaluations of teachers and their principals. For most, it is partially based upon student achievement on both locally developed and standardized tests, as well as a performance based observed set of behaviors that have been approved as being acceptable. For teachers there are those established by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) called the Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC) standards, the National Board Standards, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standards for "learning, teaching and leading in the digital age" upon which the rubrics and evaluation documents were developed in response to RTTT requirements. For principals, the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) Standards for School Leaders has been the basis upon which the observation portion of the principals' evaluation process has been based for many.
These assessment tools may be recommended along the way as formative tools offering the teachers and principals direction and time to make changes in order for the summative evaluation to benefit from targeted attention and mentoring regarding behaviors that, if improved or changed, would result in more successful outcomes.
In many cases, and for many reasons, these teacher and principal evaluations are falling short of being helpful because they are being used as a one time summative report that appraises the identified behaviors of the teachers and principals being evaluated. This, too, is disheartening. The shortcomings of the manner in which students are evaluated are the same.
Through this manner of evaluation, making it a summative judgment rather than a path toward success, for students, teachers, and principals is a sure path to system wide unhappiness. Once again we think about local control. This can become an opportunity for change rather than a sad state of affairs. Question the use of evaluation, its meaning and its purpose. The conversations are necessary with the entire community, not just teachers and principals, because a rethinking of grading for students will have to include a change in culture and expectations of teachers, students, and parents. No matter the intention of grading in the past, now is different. We have included and embraced a student population that has potential and has challenges. All may not be able to reach the zenith, but all are able to learn, do more and do well.
That involves feedback, motivation, support and belief in the impact teachers can have on their students. It involves questioning the manner in which evaluations, all of them, are accomplished. If we want teachers to develop students, modeling it in the assessment of teachers by principals, and of principals by superintendents is imperative. When principals, teachers, and students are being supported, encouraged, and motivated rather than graded and labeled, the path toward success for all is cleared.