Monday, September 9, 2013

Valuing the Professional Educator: Toward an Evaluation Plan that Works, Part 1


By the time a teacher receives the first evaluation of his/her performance, the school district has already invested a great deal of time and money in that individual. First of all there were the recruiting costs involved in finding the candidate. Secondly, there was the time and effort put in through interviews, demonstration lessons and background checks to determine that the candidate was a good fit for the district and the position. Next there was the hiring process itself and the paperwork and man hours involved there. Finally, the new teacher received some sort of orientation training that may vary from a few hours to several days. In other words, the school district has chosen and created an employee of value, an asset to the district as indicated by time and money invested.

Any system designed to evaluate the performance of this employee must first recognize that this teacher is an employee of value. Acknowledging this brings an entirely new orientation to the evaluation process. Instead of an evaluation system that tries to find teacher shortcomings, evaluation becomes a process of recognizing the value of teachers to the organization and helping professionals consistently improve performance.

This gotcha’ model of evaluation is where the education reformers have made a critical error. The main purpose of the evaluation system is not to catch out underperformers (of which there are far fewer than reformer rhetoric would suggest), but to help teachers become better at what most of them already do pretty well. A sound evaluation system, focused on teacher development, will identify those who are not able to improve performance, but its first goal will be to help the valuable professionals in their own pursuit of continuous improvement.

The reformers do have one thing right, evaluation of teachers needs to get better, but not primarily because we must weed out the underperformers. What we need is to provide valuable feedback to the professionals who can use it to improve performance. The darling of the reformers, Value Added Measures (VAMs), fail as an instrument of teacher evaluation for many reasons, mostly because there is no way to come up with a reliable score as Darling-Hammond, et.al have shown here.

Another failure of VAMs is that they do little to move the profession forward. They provide little information that would be useful to a teacher trying to improve performance or an administrator trying to provide meaningful feedback to a teacher.

What would an evaluation scheme look like that valued teachers and provided the feedback they needed? Here is an outline of the basics.
  1. Teachers and school leaders are empowered to jointly customize, adapt, and implement an evaluation framework.
  2. Observations are a mix of a few full period visits and several shorter visits. All observations involve feedback to the teacher in some form aimed at professional development.
  3.  Feedback is provided on all domains of professional practice including planning, instruction, developing a learning environment, meeting professional responsibilities and professional development.
  4. A variety of pupil progress indicators including those designed and scored by the teachers themselves in conjunction with the limited use of some standardized measures.
  5.  Collaboration among teachers as a part of a continuous improvement model.
In a future post, I will expand on each of these ideas and how they can work in a school or school district.