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Stimulus Strings: Local Teacher-Evaluation Reporting

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The stimulus guidance is up, and it contains what to me seems like a real jaw-dropper on the teacher-quality front. To receive their second cut of state stabilization funds, states will need to show they are capable of reporting the number and percentage of teachers and principals rated at each performance level under each local district's teacher-evaluation system. The federal government has, in the past, been very hands-off of teacher evaluation.

I can see this being a real challenge on a number of fronts. First off, I'm not even sure how many districts keep computerized records of the results of these evaluations. It probably varies, but right now, evaluation is pretty much a personnel thing.

Secondly, as EdSector's Tom Toch has noted, teacher-evaluation instruments in most districts are exceptionally poor. Many do a terrible job of distinguishing different levels of performance. Many are not correlated to any definition of good teaching.

We also know that administrators have been reluctant to give teachers poor ratings on their evaluation systems (see this post on San Francisco, for instance). It probably won't pass the laugh test if districts report that 100 percent of their teachers are deemed to "exceed expectations," or whatever the top rating is, when they've got schools that aren't passing testing thresholds.

So what this could do is spur some hard conversations on what teacher evaluations should look like.

It'll be interesting to see what the teachers' unions have to say about this. They've historically been wary of evaluations that use student-performance information, and the federal requirements also require states to note which districts' systems include student-achievement outcomes.

I've got calls out to Toch and the teachers' unions, Let's see what they have to say.

5 Comments

One of the prime rules of teaching should be, "Its not what the adults say; its what the students hear."

The same applies here. I have no problem with what I read of Duncan's words, but I am worried what education bureacracies will hear. For instance, it sounds like they should hear the need for peer review and efficient dismissals of ineffective teachers as with the AFT's Toledo Plan.

But reread the Teacher Magazine 10th Anniversary special issue on Standards, and what was the theme? When the word Standards was spoken, district administrators heard "standardized testing." It wasn't the letter of NCLB that caused the damage; it was the panic created by the law that encouraged destructive policies.

But the worst thing we can do is crybaby. If we want to end the "bubble" mania, the nonstop test prep, the teacher-bashing data-DRIVEN models, and the destruction of educational values, we need to engage in the debate. Those of us who value community schools and a respectful learning climate for all have the preponderance of evidence on our side. We can't be afraid of our shadows and the Klein/Rhee attacks on our profession. If we don't fight, and fight effectively, for our kids we should blame ourselves and not the "reformers." Had we stood with dignity and determination, NCLB wouldn't have done so much harm.

If teachers can't communication the profound difference between data-driven accountability and dat-informed accountability, then what does it say about our communication abilities?

There is always the danger of infield evaluation soft-balling peers (or neer-peers in the case of principals evaluating teachers). Any evaluation system taken lightly is not likely to work towards improvement. I think that the Toledo plan is certainly an element. In my own district this is used with new teachers, teachers who have been identified by supervisors as needing help and teachers who request it. Some group with an agenda attacked it based on the number of teachers fired (next to none) in both the state and following involvement in the plan. Both numbers were exceedingly low. And I don't know that teachers fired is the appropriate data set to be looking at. But, there is a need to triangulate any data, particularly that which is primarily subjective in nature. I always laugh when I look at the data that my district puts on evaluating principal's facility in working with parents--as assessed by teachers. Wonder how this would stack up against ANY other data set: timeframe for returning parent phone calls, number of complaints to "customer service," number of parents in attendance at events, number of events that include parents, evaluation of communication vehicles (newsletter, form letters, web-site, etc) or, here's a good one--what do PARENTS think?

Certainly there is an attractiveness to using student achievement value-added data. It's available (at least for core content areas in grades 3-8), it's concrete. I have no problem with throwing that into the mix. But evaluation ought to be ongoing and comprehensive and implemented in order to support improvement. That kind of single number, while convenient, doesn't do much to guide improvement.

Some of the rubrics included in Toch's document provide far more comprehensive information--as well as setting the bar in such a way that the middle is likely to provide a good descriptor of average practice, the lowest should set off alarms and the highest really defines excellence. They do, however, require more than a "drive-by" approach, as well as supposing that the rater has knowledge of the content area.

Student and parent surveys certainly have the potential to support information gleaned from such evals (if 100% of students report being un-challenged or un-engaged, but teacher observation is saying otherwise, well, Houston, we have a problem).

We have an opportunity here to take up a challenge for meaningful improvement. John is right. Teachers really need to get out in front of this one and lead. We cannot afford to relive the HQT experience--which seemed to be interpreted as "what is the best way to ensure that everyone currently in the classroom gets to stay." In a decade or two, we might see the results as the grandfathered in teachers retire and are replaced by those who graduated after implementation and actually had to meet education requirements. This time we cannot insist that everyone get an "easy A."

Margo/mom,

There is no question that the much tougher problem is veteran teachers who are ineffective. It will take time for transformative change. But in the short run, we don't have near enough teachers to replace the ones we could replace. But this is the best place to start

John:

I keep hanging on to the hope that more are salvageable (given proper supports and challenge) than we have been counting on.

Margo/mom,

I'd prefer a different word than salvagable. In the last decade we have completely redefined the role of a teacher - from a classroom instructor (hopefully) involved in extracvurricular activities and families) to the guarantor of increases in student performance. But our realities have barely changed or have even gotten tougher.

The answer is not to give more supports to teachers, but to redefine our jobs back to having more reasonable goals. Nowadays, being a "good teacher" is not nearly enough to be an "effective teacher." Rather then design a system where every teacher is a superstar, bring in some reinforcements, simplify, and create conditions orderly enough so that being a good teacher is enough to be an effective teacher.

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