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Consulting the Key Players: Teachers and Students

Jessica Keigan
All over the country, educational systems are working to improve educator effectiveness by creating what they hope will be ideal systems of teacher evaluation. In Colorado, Senate Bill 191 was passed in the state's bid to earn Race to the Top dollars and is now being refined for implementation. I have been immersed in the process of providing recommendations for that process alongside the other members of the Denver New Millennium Initiative, and have heard many opinions about what an effective teacher evaluation system looks like.

The most informative conversations I have had about teacher effectiveness and evaluation haven't been with politicians or policy leaders, however. These conversations have instead involved the most deeply-invested stakeholders in the system: students and teachers. They have helped me to realize that the benchmarks of the best teacher evaluation systems of the future will find a balance of objective data gathered from teacher-created assessments and subjective data gathered from a variety of observations.

I am often struck by how insightful my students are about the educational system. I suppose this shouldn't surprise me, given they are the consumer of the product we create. According to my students, the best teachers are experts of their content and craft and those who provide challenge and support to each student. The ideal evaluation system would recognize that students can provide data about what they are learning if we ask them to share, either verbally or through the tasks we set before them each day. We can apply this truth to create an evaluation system that measures students' daily learning experience through formative assessment and provides more authentic measures than the limited and often untimely data gathered by standardized tests.

Teachers who are effective can also speak with eloquence about how they know they are effective. The best teachers I know are reflective about their craft every minute of the day. They are practicing effectiveness according to my students' standards by differentiating instruction and delivery for each student they teach.

In an ideal evaluation system, there would be ample opportunity for teachers to reflect on their craft by creating goals for and taking part in all stages of the observation process. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification process is the place to look for this design. Teachers who are working on their National Board certification are asked to reflect on recorded lessons, so that they watch themselves teach.

While there is room and a strong need for observations by highly qualified peer or administrative observers, the ideal evaluation system would also recognize the value of allowing the teacher to self-assess.

Ultimately, the ideal evaluation systems will recognize the need for teacher and student voice at all points of the process.

A member of the Center for Teaching Quality's Denver New Millennium Initiative team, Jessica Keigan divides her time evenly between teaching English at Horizon High School in Denver and supporting results-oriented efforts to improve Colorado's schools.

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