Yes, evaluate me, but do it well. (Part II)

What would a teacher evaluation system look like if it really worked and helped teachers improve our craft?

If you read my last post, you’ll know that many teachers in my home town of Oakland are frustrated with the evaluation system as it currently stands.

So what would a better system look like?

What would a teacher evaluation system look like if it really worked and helped teachers improve our craft?

If you read my last post, you’ll know that many teachers in my home town of Oakland are frustrated with the evaluation system as it currently stands.

So what would a better system look like?

In my interviews with teachers in Oakland, I found that the same three reforms woven into most of the conversations.

Let’s take a look at each.

Adding more eyes

Even if my current evaluation system was working as intended, the only extra pair of eyes that would be on my professional practice would be from one of my assistant principals or the head principal – whomever was assigned to do my evaluation. That one person would visit my classroom twice for about forty-five minutes. Then, after each observation, the two of us would sit down to discuss what she/he saw.
Even when the system is working, the teachers I talked to agreed that one observer wasn’t enough. They wanted two or even three of their colleagues to also observe their classroom.

“My principal tries to do a good job,” one teacher told me. “The problem is, she was never a Special ED teacher, so she really doesn’t know what to look for in my room. I need an observer who is also a good Special ED teacher, who can give me the feedback that I need.”

A well-balanced system would need to have 2-3 peer observers to supplement the eyes of the administrator. Ideally, these peers would either share curriculum or students with the teacher being observed.

Listening to our “customers”

Granted, students typically are not savvy or meta-cognitive enough to be able to offer insight to a teacher about instructional strategies that may work better for her or him. The student probably doesn’t have a deep understanding of where the class is intended to go vis-à-vis the curricular map or long-term learning goals of the teacher.

That said, students have the best sense of how they feel in the classroom. They know if the classroom feels safe. They know when they are feeling challenged rather than overwhelmed. They know when they are feeling supported rather than lost. They know when their teacher loves them like an extra parent rather than trying to be a friend or, worse yet, behaving like they don’t even like children.
Periodic, anonymous surveys of students can give teachers insight into the culture of a class. The teachers I met recommended finding out how students feel at least twice during the year. After a fall survey, a teacher can choose to make adjustments to help her current class or classes of students. Another survey in the spring can guide that teacher in changes to make for next year.

Counting data that counts

Data can be tricky. Test scores can be difficult to analyze. There is a tremendous amount of rhetoric lauding the use of complex computer logarithms to tease out social and economic factors to see the added value that a teacher brings into a student’s learning (VAM or Value-Added Measures). However, there are a near-equal number of studies questioning the value of Value-Added.

Regardless of whether one teacher chooses to use the state-mandated high-stakes test and other teacher chooses a student project or portfolio, what I believe is important is that both the teacher and the administrator agrees to look at the same data. It’s really the process that matters, more than the product.

Both the teacher and the administrator need to agree that the student-learning data that is going to be used to evaluate the teacher meets certain criteria:

  •  The assessment actually measures learning that both the teacher and administrator agree is important.
  •  The assessment is consistent, measuring the same learning goals every time it’s used.
  •  The assessment actually measures growth and progress as the teacher and student work over the year to learn more.

Next time

I can almost read the minds of some of my readers: “That sounds great, Dave. But we could never afford to do that at my school.”

However, a school can make reforms to improve their teacher evaluation systems without needing to find extra dollars on our ever-tightening budgets.

Next time, I’ll share with you how a team of teachers at my in Oakland have made the above system real, with some strategic, but no-cost support from our school.