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Grading Teachers Is Counterproductive

When the accountability movement began, teachers in most states were rated essentially as pass or fail.  But today more states are introducing further differentiating labels in the belief that the original strategy was not achieving its goal of improving instruction. If the corporate experience is any indication, however, the change will prove to be counterproductive ("The Trouble With Grading Employees," The Wall Street Journal, Apr. 22).

Companies have found that such ratings discourage collaboration and increase anxiety ("Yes, Everyone Really Does Hate Performance Reviews," The Wall Street Journal, Apr. 11, 2010). Microsoft once used  stack ranking, which required that a small percentage of employees had to be designated as underperformers, but gave it up ("Microsoft Abandons 'Stack Ranking' of Employees, The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 12, 2013).  Employees complain that differentiating performance is unfair because it's more about pleasing the boss than achieving desired results ("Why Your Boss Is Wrong About You," The New York Times, Mar. 1, 2011).  I think that their view also applies to public-school teachers.

Contrary to popular belief, when teachers get an unsatisfactory rating, it does not necessarily motivate them to improve, for the same reason that corporate employees are not necessarily motivated.  According to the NeuroLeadership Institute, poor ratings trigger a "threat response" in workers that can last for months. Companies that have abolished ratings report that their employees listen more carefully to feedback because they don't have to obsess about receiving a label.  

If this is what transpires in corporations, why not apply it to public schools?  Teachers don't opt for a career in the classroom to become affluent or to move up the ladder.  They're there for the inner satisfaction they get working on a daily basis with young people. Anything that threatens the relationship between them and their students is bound to destroy morale.

Instead of ratings, I think it's more productive to have teachers meet regularly with their evaluators. The purpose would be to discuss ways to improve what their students are learning without the fear of getting an unsatisfactory notice, which is seen as a scarlet letter. There should be no retaliation for speaking truth to power.  I know that is highly unlikely to happen, but it's essential.

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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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