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When All Teachers Are Above Average

The comments are coming in thick and fast on an Education Week story I wrote that looks at some of the early final results of districts' and states' newly revamped teacher-evaluation systems. In general, they found that most teachers are scoring in the top categories.

Now comes the hard part: What does this data mean? Are all teachers really that good? Or are the observation systems generating too many "false positives?" Are the objective measures, which tend to be more evenly spread, not reflecting teachers' good practice? Or, as suggested by recent research, are principals tending to inflate their own teachers' marks?

Perhaps all of the above. But the bottom line is that these distributions aren't all that different from the binary "satisfactory, unsatisfactory" results that sparked the creation of these more-sophisticated systems.

A lot of the comments on the story tend to focus on what the "correct" distribution of summative scores should be—scholars don't agree on a number—but there's a lot less discussion on what their implications are for professional development. And this, it seems to me, is worth some additional attention. After all, as the teachers' unions and others have noted, the main purpose of a teacher-evaluation system should be helping to pinpoint areas of instructional weakness. And if everyone is doing OK, there's little impetus for teachers to change what they are doing.

Perhaps the more useful and relevant information for educators can be found in the sub-scores, rather than the final ratings. Are principals and teachers delving into this information, analyzing it, and figuring out what steps are needed to increase teacher competence—what Barnett Berry calls the "narrative" of teacher evaluation and improvement?

If you're an administrator or a teacher working under one of these systems, tell us about your experience. Did the system, in your view, help to point out areas of strength and weakness? How well was it implemented? What pressures did you face? Did you have colleagues whose results surprised you?

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