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Training of Teacher-Evaluators Examined

Formal training of the principals and other observers conducting teacher evaluations is a complex, necessary, and often overlooked component of the systems, concludes a new paper written by the experts who oversaw the training and scoring of thousands of teachers' lessons, as part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Measures of Effective Teaching Project.

Such training, including the certification and testing of observers, will help to ensure that judgments of teacher practice are valid and reliable for the purpose of professional development and other decisions, they assert.

The paper was written by Catherine McClellan, the research and development project director on the teacher observation component of the Gates project, in which observers scored some 23,000 lessons in 3,000 teachers' classrooms; Charlotte Danielson, a well-known consultant on teacher evaluation, and Mark Atkinson, the founder of professional-development provider Teachscape, which provided funding for the paper.

It outlines the challenges in a couple of key areas and offers the following takeaways:

• It's not enough for observers to understand the theory and philosophy behind the observation instrument; they have to also be able to demonstrate accurate scoring across grade levels and subjects;
• Practice scoring on video exemplar lessons should be compared to pre-determined scores, and feedback should be provided;
• Observers should be trained to recognize the differences among bias, interpretation, and evidence;
• Extra help is needed for scorers to learn whether to place a score at the high end of one performance category or the low end of the next highest; and
• Scorers should be required to pass a certification test showing that they are skilled in applying the framework to short and long video clips of teaching, among other steps.

The paper estimates that the length of training observers could take somewhere in the range of 35 to 40 hours in all, though it isn't clear just how much Cadillac training of this sort would cost, per teacher.

So, you ask, who's actually doing this kind of training? Two come to mind: The Santa Monica, Calif.-based Teacher Advancement Program, a nonprofit that provided the training for Tennessee's statewide teacher evaluation system, for one. And I'd be remiss if I didn't note that Teachscape itself also provides these services. But I'm sure there are others I've missed.

Let's hear from our readers on this one. What are your states and districts doing to prepare principals and others for conducting these observations? And who will be providing the training?

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