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Middle Ground on Evaluations

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Eduwonkette has an interesting post up about the dismissal of a popular Wilson High School teacher. She suggests that this situation shows the weakness in D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee's strategy to permit principals more say over the hiring, firing, and remediation of teachers.

If principals can't be trusted to make evaluative decisions about teachers, or if those decisions are too subjective, then what should these evaluations be based on?

Teachers have some real concerns with supposedly objective measures of their performance, too. For good reason: Researchers are still trying to figure out the best methodologies for using standardized test scores to estimate the "value added" of teachers on their students' achievement. (See my colleague Debra Viadero's write up of this issue here.)

Perhaps the answer is to institute a mix of subjective and objective measures in teacher evaluations, or to use multiple kinds of evaluations before arriving at a determination about whether a teacher needs remediation and/or should be put on a track to dismissal. Of course, those raise additional questions about how to arrive at the right "mix" of measures and who besides principals ought to be conducting the evaluations.

There's an important subtext to Eduwonkette's post that also deserves some attention. Just how accurate do evaluations need to be? If even one teacher is misidentified, is that too many? What's the appropriate level of safeguards around teacher evaluations, and what should those safeguards look like?

(This underlying issue of accuracy is a big one in today's Age of Accountability. Most of the wrangling over No Child Left Behind fundamentally has to do with whether the AYP measure is accurately identifying schools needing assistance and whether tweaks to N-sizes, confidence intervals, growth models, etc. improve or enervate accuracy.)

It's been quiet out there of late in the comments section. Let's hear some feedback from our readers on this issue.

1 Comment

Stephen, your posting calling for splitting the difference and good enough evaluation decisions kind of misses the point about what good teacher evaluation must involve. Evaluation should leave the teacher having learned something. It should produce insight about what constitutes good teaching and whether good teaching is going on or not. Regardless of the result, the process has to have integrity. Good teaching is complex activity and evaluation has to do it justice. It is the key to teachers having faith that people care about the quality of what they do. Your posting makes be think that you really don't understand the power of what Eduwonkette brought to light by her posting.

In a compliance system, evaluation is aimed at demonstrating that those who don't comply will be punished. In a learning system, evaluation is aimed at improving the quality of teaching. The DC Chancellor's process was aimed at sending a pure compliance message. What DC Public Schools need desperately, on the other hand, is an improved teaching and learning system. Its like two totally different languages and fundamentally different philosophies. Kids in urban school systems too deserve healthy teaching and learning environments, not factory-model compliance systems.

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