Teaching ahead: the teacher evaluation system students deserve

The education world is abuzz about teacher evaluation reform. Over the last three years, 32 states and the District of Columbia have enacted policies that have changed how those who teach are assessed.

It seems like every day another inside-the-Beltway think tank offers its advice on which state is doing the most to make sure teachers are held accountable for their classroom practice. Most of these reports, like the recent one offered up by NCTQ (that is not us), provide a cursory overview through a very narrow lens. They provide little insight into the significant technical problems, like those experienced in Tennessee’s rushed “Race to the Top” implementation of its teacher evaluation system. Tennessee is struggling to accurately use value-added ratings and assess teachers on student growth measures in non-tested subjects. At the same time, it’s foisting unnecessary paperwork on classroom practitioners.

Commonly heard in NCTQ-esque circles is that “teacher-effectiveness measures don’t have to be perfect to be useful.” I would agree in principle with this well-known reform adage—don’t let perfection get in the way of progress. However, as we’ve learned from teachers in Tennessee, a hastily implemented system can affect teachers’ perceptions of their careers. A job they used to “love” can easily become one they “hate.”

For an alternative view of how to make teacher evaluation work for students and the profession that serves them, policymakers might just want to listen to teachers—the people who must implement these new teaching accountability systems.

In our latest edition of Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable, you have the chance to consider how Teacher Leaders Network (TLN) members—a number of whom are now engaged in teacher evaluation reforms through our New Millennium Initiative—view evaluation reforms, and how to make them work:

  • Jessica Hahn suggests that her evaluators ask themselves how they can “develop her as a better teacher.”
  • Jessica Keigan is ready for evaluations that draw on the expertise of students (and teachers themselves).
  • Ryan Kinser imagines how his evaluation experience will look in 2021.
  • Patrick Ledesma points out that if standardized tests are to be part of evaluation, they must be better.
  • Renee Moore argues eloquently that as teaching morphs into a true profession, we need transformed, not just reformed, evaluation systems.
  • Michael Moran makes the case for how teaching context must be a factor in teacher evaluation.
  • Ryan Niman meets the education genie. One of his wishes for teacher evaluation is to communicate the complexity of his work (and his colleagues’ work) to policymakers, practitioners, and the public.

For those who could use a scholarly lesson on policy implementation in education, you might want to return to the 1970s RAND change agent studies. Transforming teacher evaluation, like most complex teaching policies, will require what Milbrey McLaughlin called “mutual adaptation” from those who enact and those who implement.

Is it not time to pay more careful attention to the implementers? Is it not time to consider policies that not just remove constraints to more results-oriented teacher evaluation, but policies that enable teachers to teach more effectively and serve students as they intended to when they entered teaching?

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