Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Thoughts on an Ideal Teacher Evaluation System

Such a hot topic...and one that if you asked 10 different teachers I am sure you would get at least 23 different answers. I'm not 100% confident that I even know what the "ideal" evaluation model would be...but I am confident that it needs to include a combination of many different components...Also, one caveat - teacher evaluations should be done entirely with the focus of improving teacher performance so they can best serve our students. Evaluations should not be an exercise in trying to find the negative and punish, but rather we should continually work to improve our teachers through the evaluations. That's not to say that we can't remove teachers based on these "evaluations" - we can, and we should if necessary. We cannot tolerate inadequacy in our classrooms. However, we need to make sure that these decisions are not based on a couple of observations, or a few data points - we need the big picture, over time.

So, here they are, in no real particular order...

Test Scores
I'll go ahead and get it out of the way - we need to have accountability in all of our schools and among all of our teachers. Though "testing" is a four-letter word that most wouldn't utter in front of their grandmother, I do believe there can be value in the concept. However, I also strongly believe that our current system is so far out of whack and alignment, and that there is way, way too much of an emphasis placed on a few snapshot high-stakes test. That said, I feel there is a role for test scores in teacher evaluation, albeit a small role. How small? I haven't figured that out yet...but, quite small.

Multiple Administration Observations
I'm not talking about the full dog and pony show 52-minute observations that take place 3 schedule times a year. No, not those. Instead, if an administrator wants to know what's going on in the class and how a teacher teaches, well, then they need to get in on the action. Ideally, there would be 4-6 quick (10-15 minute) observations - and not all from the same administrator. The purpose of the observations is NOT to punish - but simply to get a feel for what's going on, and to offer critical advice..."Have you ever considered trying ______?" I feel that the "Danielson Model" for evaluating teachers is quite strong, and it would be good to continue to base observations and expectations around the Danielson Model.

Peer Evaluation
We all know the rock star teachers, the duds, the has-beens, the never-will-be's, and the average Joes in our building. We work side-by-side with them on a daily basis. There can be tremendous value in getting insight and feedback from your peers, especially when those peers watch you and work with you. Again, these evaluations need to be professional and completed with the idea that we're working to improve overall teacher performance...not to punish. 3-4 peer observations and some feedback (evaluations) at the end would be tremendously helpful in achieving this goal. As with the administration observations above, the Danielson Model would be effective here.

Student Evaluation
Like test scores, student evaluation should play a supporting role in teacher evaluation and should not be the most heavily weighted. However, our primary purpose is to work with our students, to teach them and help them grow. They are our number one customer. If we're not meeting the needs of our students, well, then something needs to change. There was recently a great article in The Atlantic that touched on this very idea, and I really feel there is plenty of value in hearing from our students.

Self Evaluation
Lastly, I believe it is important that we evaluate ourselves on how well we think we are doing. We constantly strive for our students to be reflective and critical, and we as teachers are constantly reflecting and revising our work, so it's only logical that some form of teacher reflection on their performance is included in their evaluation

On the whole, my ideal teacher evaluation would take into account many different measures from many different people. Only then, I feel, can we truly get a fair and accurate picture of a good teacher. Sure, this is a lot of work, but I feel it's vital. Evaluations like this need not happen annually, as that might be too cumbersome. However, after the initial 3-year probationary period it seems reasonable that every 3 or so years our teachers are re-evaluated. During that time, should issues arise then we work to fix those issues. Should a teacher consistently prove that they are ineffective and that interventions and support are not helping the teacher improve, then we must take responsibility and remove that teacher? Our students' education is too important to be squandered by below average teachers.


  1. Umm your paragraph on testing, couldn't agree more. You hit the nail on the head there. It is SO far out of whack and no offense but especially in this district where there is a lot more testing happening that is required. I have big issues with testing and the transformation I have seen take place over the last 9 years.

    Teacher eval needs to be all encompassing. Student and parent feedback is a must however needs to be able to be received and not "defended". Peer feedback from other teachers that one works with and around. Admin eval I think is over rated. As for testing, I don't know how to make this work as I am with you that at some level there is the importance to see where people are stacking up however with all the inequalities between students {non-English speaking, less resources and/or parental involvement etc} it's hard to say that their test scores are a result of a good or bad teacher. Just my thoughts. I'm liking your blog, Ryan. Look forward to more of your thoughts!

    1. I'm also very torn on testing - I do believe that we need a way to hold schools, teachers, and students accountable...but I really am not convinced that the current standardized testing model is even remotely the ideal way to do that. There are a whole host of reasons why it's not ideal, and you touch on a few.

      I'm torn on parent feedback - I do think it's valuable and I think there could be a place for it. However, I wonder about whose feedback you would get? Would you get it from all parents? Not likely...which means you'd probably get it from those that are very supportive of their student's teacher, and those that are very critical - not sure it would be accurate? Ideally you'd hear from all of your parents...but, is it feasible for a parent of 3 to provide meaningful feedback on 18 different teachers? Even the logistics might be tricky. I highly value the parent voice and do believe there is place for it, but haven't quite worked out where it fits in an eval model.

      Admin feedback can be overrated - but I truly believe that a good administrator who really knows their staff and abilities can provide excellent insight, feedback, and evaluations of their staff. But, that also hinges on the administrator.

      There are so many variables to any one component of a teacher evaluation which is why I really believe it needs to include many components, and the primary purpose should be to help the teacher - any teacher - to improve their craft. Quality improvement first, judgement second. I'm very curious to see what the new teacher evaluation model(s) that are now state mandated will look like. I believe they are trending to a more comprehensive approach, which is great.

      Thanks for the insights and thougths!