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How Can Teacher Evaluation Improve Teaching?

Did your formal evaluation give meaningful feedback to improve your teaching and leadership?

Unfortunately, many teachers do not find their formal evaluations very meaningful or reflective of what actually happens in the classroom. Many teachers report that evaluations are often procedural, consisting of "drive by" observations from an administrator once or twice a year with feedback often too generic to have practical content and pedagogical application in the classroom.

Without specific criteria that define each level of performance, evaluations can often be subjective. Different administrators often have a range of opinions on what represents each performance level.

How can teacher evaluation be improved?

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) recently released "Getting it Right", a report that highlights what schools need to do to design effective teacher evaluation systems. (Read the report or view the webcast.)

NBPTS outlines six steps to build a better system. Developing an effective teacher evaluation and support system involves these major tasks:

1) Identify and convene the right stakeholders.
2) Specify what must be measured.
3) Define the process of measuring.
4) Clarify how the measures will be applied consistently.
5) Define the evaluation process.
6) Define the ongoing support.

Developing Rubrics

Beyond these broad steps, I think the use of rubrics in analyzing performance levels is the most helpful part of the report. As the report suggests,

For teacher observations within the evaluation system, the scoring rubric is a tool that describes specific characteristics of performance at varying levels of achievement in order to clarify expectations or feedback and to limit misunderstandings in expectations (Mertler, 2011; Moskal, 2000).
Consequently, these rubrics must include (a) differentiated performance levels (b) criteria or indicators (c) types of evidence at different performance levels.

This sample rubric in the report gives an example based on one the Five Core Propositions that all accomplished teachers should know and be able to do.

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In this example, "exemplary" teachers use multiple sources, including their own "self developed systems" to better understand the unique learning needs of their students. The use of self developed systems in addition to established sources distinguish the exemplary and proficient levels of practice.

This rubric-based format provides criteria for administrators and teachers to have "teacher development" centered discussions based on classroom practice. Rubrics facilitate discussions to acknowledge what is already being done, and to identify specific areas for growth and professional development.

The rubrics describe specific levels of expectations for how teachers can begin to achieve higher levels of effectiveness.

Using rubrics in evaluation has many advantages over many current evaluation systems that use broad terms such as "not meeting" and "developing" to describe performance levels.

As the Getting it Right report also points out, "two commonly used terms that are problematic are 'not meeting' and 'developing' (p. 18).

The issue with "not meeting" is its dependence on a "what" to describe what is not being met; it fits more readily with a checklist evaluation.
The issue with the term "developing" is that all teachers, independent of their effectiveness, should be developing.
Selecting the titles and defining the levels is a critical first step that should be done purposefully and with great care.

Promoting Teacher Leadership

And while the development of rubrics is an important step in improving teacher evaluation, the logical next step is recognizing the need for collaborative teacher leadership.

"Getting it Right" emphasizes that the "key focus of an evaluation system is to create, promote, and sustain purposeful, collaborative teacher support that results in teacher growth and increased student learning (p.34)."

As helpful as these rubrics are in facilitating discussions; ultimately, teacher leaders in each subject area and grade levels will be needed to inform administrators of what exemplary practices should look like based on each classroom context.

While effective administrators are also instructional leaders, no administrators are masters of all subjects, especially at the higher grade levels.

This is where teacher leaders have a critical role; effective administrators know how to empower their exemplary teacher leaders in each subject and grade level to facilitate the professional growth of other teachers.

By advocating for rubrics and providing opportunities for collaborative teacher leadership as part of a comprehensive system of evaluation for teacher and student learning, this NBPTS report "Getting it Right" gets it right in leading the discussion on how to grow great schools.

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