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Grading Teachers Fairly

Once a mere formality, the evaluation of teachers has undergone changes that are designed to make the process more meaningful. Yet despite the revisions, critics argue that far too many ineffective teachers still receive satisfactory ratings ("Curious Grade for Teachers: Nearly All Pass," The New York Times, Mar. 31).

Although each state sets its own rules, what emerges is a combination of student progress on standardized tests and observations by principals. Most of the controversy so far has been over the weight given to test scores. Since the debate over this issue is by now well known, I'd like to focus instead on classroom observations, which I believe to be the fairest way of evaluation.

The key is the qualifications of the evaluators. Even now, principals are assumed to possess the expertise to do the job. I question whether this is necessarily true. I have no doubt that principals who are armed with a checklist consisting of 60 specific elements, as is the case in Florida, are in a position to assess pedagogy. But are they competent to assess subject matter? For example, do principals who are certified in physical education know enough about Spanish to determine if teachers are correctly instructing students about the use of the subjunctive?

That's why I believe that the only defensible way of evaluating teachers is through the use of a panel of certified peers. These evaluators would be experienced teachers who are licensed in the subject being taught and who have received additional training in teacher evaluation. They would, therefore, be equipped to see the entire picture. There is no guarantee that this approach would always be fair, but at least it would minimize misjudging teachers.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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