No consensus on which skills should be included in teacher evaluations

At least 30 states are launching new systems to evaluate teachers using more rigorous criteria about what makes a good teacher, but so far there is little consensus on what the criteria should be.

Teacher evaluations have become highly controversial as states introduce increasingly different models.

Can the quality of a teacher be measured by looking at just a few key skills, such as setting academic goals and running an effective class discussion? Or should teachers be evaluated based on a broader range of abilities, including lesson-planning and content knowledge?

In Los Angeles, teachers will soon be evaluated on a list of 61 criteria during classroom observations conducted by school administrators. Louisiana, by contrast, requires principals to look at just five skills in the observation portion of the state’s new teacher evaluations. In most classrooms in Tennessee, principals use a checklist that includes 19 skills during observations that are part of a new, more intensive evaluation system launched last year. In each place, a teacher’s rating will be based on a combination of classroom observations and student achievement data.

Both the longer and shorter observation checklists have met with criticism. The Los Angeles Times reports that while teachers participating in the roll-out of a new evaluation system planned for the Los Angeles Unified School District are generally optimistic about it, many administrators are concerned about the time it takes to observe and rate teachers on 61 skills. In Louisiana’s case, Charlotte Danielson, the architect of a longer checklist on which Louisiana’s observation tool is based, warned that the state’s truncated version is simplistic and may lead to lawsuits.

The Los Angeles checklist is also based on Danielson’s framework, but the district added extra skills to some of the evaluation areas to reflect the local context and California standards for teachers. And although the framework being piloted in Los Angeles is lengthy, the district is only focusing on a handful of areas while piloting the program this year, including “classroom climate” and “teacher interaction with students.”

These two indicators appear in other observation rubrics across the country, but the importance they are given in different rating systems varies. Florida’s Miami-Dade school district has also made teacher-student relationships a priority. There, teachers are rated on eight performance standards including “learning environment,” which holds more weight in the evaluation score than the standards evaluating professionalism and communication. In Louisiana, assessments and procedures, or the extent to which the class “runs itself” through routines, are the priority, and separate indicators measuring a classroom’s climate and learning culture were dropped.

Despite the lack of agreement about the details, the evaluations are becoming increasingly important as more states are using new evaluations to determine who can stay in the classroom. Under Louisiana’s new system, teachers could lose their certification if they receive an “ineffective” rating for two years in a row. In Washington, D.C., 7 percent of the teaching force was fired after a controversial new evaluation system was launched two years ago. (The District of Columbia Public Schools originally included a total of 22 standards in its observation framework, but dropped the number to 18 after teachers complained that the number of requirements was overwhelming.)

When the Measures of Effective Teaching project, a study in six districts funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, observed nearly 3,000 teachers using five different observation systems, researchers found that it didn’t really matter which practices were emphasized on an evaluation. Teachers who more effectively demonstrated the types of practices emphasized in any given system had greater student achievement gains than other teachers. (Disclosure: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is among the many funders of The Hechinger Report.)

But educators and researchers say the observation process is not meant just to identify which teachers are high-performing. It’s also supposed to help low-performing teachers improve their practice. “The goal of supervision and evaluation should be to develop expert teachers who are self-correcting,” said Michael Toth, CEO of the Learning Sciences Marzano Center for Teacher and Leadership Evaluation, an organization that develops teacher evaluation tools, in a press release. Toth cited results of a study that found teachers assessed with more detailed observation tools are more likely to change their classroom practices. “The more specific the model is … the better the model will be in driving teacher development,” Toth said.

Some teachers in Los Angeles told the Los Angeles Times that their new evaluation system does just that by focusing on specific areas and encouraging collaboration and reflection. Last year, 450 teachers and 320 administrators tested the system. By the end of this school year, every principal and one volunteer teacher at each school in the district will be trained, with a district-wide roll-out date still to be determined.


POSTED BY ON November 29, 2012

Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Post a Comment

Robert Ryshke

I am not sure I agree. While each state may have some unique qualities buried within the evaluation system they’re launching, there are a set of qualities that most states would probably agree on, qualities of a good teacher. I have posted a piece on good teaching that I believe captures these qualities quite well.

http://rryshke.wordpress.com/2012/11/14/teaching-is-it-art-or-not/

I also posted a piece on how to measure good teaching.

http://rryshke.wordpress.com/2012/11/22/how-do-you-measure-good-teaching/

It is somewhat easy to pick apart each state’s system, but I think it would be more valuable to affirm the good work that is being done in the name of elevating the teaching profession.

Our main goal should be to develop systems that use a variety of characteristics of what good teaching looks like. It is a very complex practice and needs an evaluation system that understands and affirms its complexity. Finally, the way we measure good teaching should be much more balanced than simply using student achievement data on multiple choice tests taken once a year (counting this variable more than 20% would be a mistake).

Bob Ryshke
Center for Teaching

Hannes Minkema

Bob Ryshke, I am going to take 25% of your income and spend it on the perfect scientific assessment of ‘executive directors’. You bet it is going to be expensive, but it yields a lot of well-paid work for me. And you bet that the results won’t give you anything, it is just going to take something away from you that you hold as valuable, such as autonomy – and 25% of your income.

The issue is not whether it is possible to arrive at a set of operational ‘qualities’ of ‘good teachers’. The issue is whether we will improve education by spending the taxpayer’s dollars on such assessments. There is no evidence fot such assumption. There is a lot of evidence on the contrary: unjust assessments of people based on evidently wrong criteria.

Let’s do some evidence-based policy for a change, and look at the educational policy in countries that do better than we do. I advise you to look at Finland and find out what we can learn from the Fins.

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