Teacher voices in Denver speak truth on teacher evaluation

Teacher evaluation reform is the hot topic in education reform. At a group interview for the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship at the U.S. Department of Education, the group discussion topic was how Secretary Duncan should talk about teacher evaluations. This is its moment.

The Denver New Millennium Initiative (NMI) report, Making Teacher Evaluation Work for Students: Voices from the Classroom offers some key insight into how to get this right. Indeed, the risks of implementing new evaluation regimes are high; over-reliance on reductive standardized tests has already delivered devastating effects to public education. Revamping teacher evaluation runs the risk of ratcheting up the already-inflated emphasis on testing.

The report’s key contribution is outlining workable ways to involve teachers as evaluators. Teachers should have the central role in designing useful assessments— having your assessment selected will earn you a bonus— and administering the evaluations. This opens the door to hybrid roles or career ladders for brilliant teachers who, under the current system, are often too swamped by teaching duties to share their vast expertise.

Putting teacher-evaluators at the heart of the process also creates conditions for organic, useful feedback from voices who understand the on-the-ground realities of classrooms. The NMI team rightly points out that “all teachers… deserve excellent feedback as well as a support system to continue their development. One-size-fits-all workshops and brief classroom observations with no follow-up are not effective.” The report also advocates for making feedback and post-observation action-planning into central components of the evaluation process. If we’re serious about helping teachers be the best for their students, this is inarguably vital.

To use teacher language, teacher evaluations should be formative, not summative. To use plain language, imagine how you’d like your own child’s teacher to be treated. Should she get extensive support for developing her craft, or should she get a number slapped on her based on test scores?

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