#ISTP2013 travel log: Evaluating teachers in teams

Barnett Berry’s third dispatch from the 2013 International Summit on the Teaching Profession in Amsterdam.

It did not take long for the conversations during Wednesday’s deliberations at the International 
Summit on the Teaching Profession to pick up. The topic was the quality of teaching standards across the globe—and who decides how to apply them. Everyone seemed to have something nice to say about teachers. But then the focus turned to who entered teaching (or did not) and how teachers should be deemed effective.

The minister from Belgium asked whether the standards for entry to teaching should be changed to encourage more people who hadn’t always wanted to work with children to become teachers. And then the false dichotomies of the teaching profession—that beset us much in the States—began to surface. Some of the more notable deceptive divides that were discussed included focusing on student results versus examining teaching practices, as well as peer review versus administrators conducting evaluations.

Several Dutch teachers spoke up during the Q&A period, the short time allowed for observers to make their thoughts known. One young teacher reminded everyone that teacher evaluation must not make teaching more difficult. Instead, it must fuel improvement. These comments made it clear once more to me that these summits need more wisdom from the classroom, not just from the highest levels of education decision-making.

Yesterday’s deliberations did not surface the latest evidence from Kirabo Jackson on using value-added measures (VAM) to assess teacher effectiveness, pointing out that “most effective teachers will not be identified based on test score–based measures.” His research shows that many teachers are better at improving students’ non-cognitive skills than cognitive ones (and vice versa), and that the lockstep application of VAM in teaching appraisals is fraught with error. For a teacher’s reaction to Jackson’s findings, read this excellent post from CTQ teacher-blogger Bill Ferriter.

In the end, Linda Darling-Hammond, the excellent rapporteur, made it clear—bridging many divides—that we can measure quality of teaching practice, the context in which educators teach, and student learning. But it’s complicated, and requires far more trained educators as evaluators, to make nuanced judgments about the complexities of teaching.

And perhaps even more importantly, after listening to Pasi Sahlberg (maestro of Finnish Lessons), Paul Anderson (Montana teacher of the year), Rebecca Mieliwocki (U.S. National Teacher of the Year), and Mathijs ter Bork (Netherlands teacher leader), I am ready for U.S. education policymakers to get real about teaching as a team sport, pushing teachers to be evaluated more as teams, and less as individuals. Pasi tweeted it best:

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