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March 7, 2018

3 Reasons Why Teacher Evaluations Aren’t Working…Yet

[Author’s note: This blog is the second excerpt from the free ebook “From ‘Gotcha’ to Growth: Teacher Evaluation Systems That Work.” You can download the ebook (PDF) here.]

If you ask almost anyone in the field, they’ll likely tell you that the educator evaluation system they’re using isn’t pushing practice (and this includes individuals in states with new evaluation systems).

A 2016 national survey found that more than half of teachers rated the feedback they received in their evaluation as “minimally or not at all helpful” in improving their instruction. As noted in New America’s publication Beyond Ratings, “Many of these new [evaluation] systems are still not providing teachers with richer, more frequent feedback on their practice than they were before or differentiating teacher performance to inform their development. While the [Education] Department intended for states’ waiver plans to catalyze better evaluation and improvement activities, it only provided specific guidance on the former.”

So why haven’t these well-intentioned systems delivered on the promise to impact practice and student learning? There are countless reasons why they still aren’t having the intended outcomes. But there seem to be a few reasons that are common no matter the context:

1. Implementation is hard and takes time.

No matter what the initiative may be, implementing a new process or system throughout an entire state is challenging. In addition to just getting the basics right, so many factors make the evaluation of educators even more complicated. For starters, training thousands of individuals on a complicated and technical process is difficult, especially when the training is expected to take root in only a few hours or days. Effective observation and feedback is a practice, and thus takes time to hone the skill. It’s further complicated by the fact that we’re trying to get everyone to make assessments of instructional practice using a single rubric, which brings me to the next challenge.

Emphasizing the importance of formative feedback for teachers in their article “How to Give Professional Feedback,” Brookhart and Moss (2015) write: “What makes feedback collegial is dialogue in the context of a relationship, that, ideally, isn’t broken down into the separate roles of ‘supervisor’ and ‘employee,’ but instead involves joint work in the service of student learning.”

2. Evaluation tools are too big and too complicated.

In the interest of ensuring that all aspects of effective instruction are captured, evaluation tools tend to have dozens of indicators – many more than are feasible to assess by watching a 40-minute lesson. And even if one could make an assessment (provide a score) for each indicator, the amount of feedback required for each of the indicators make it nearly impossible to provide high-quality feedback on so many indicators. And even if we could get this right (and that’s a big IF)…

3. Frequency of feedback matters.

However, evaluation systems aren’t necessarily designed to provide formative feedback (which is what is needed to spur true growth). Although new evaluation systems have generally added more observations to the feedback cycle, it’s still not frequent enough. Teachers will never grow if they receive only a few observations each year. In order for formative feedback to inspire improvement, the feedback cycle must include more frequent observations, with high-quality and actionable feedback, and with opportunities to monitor progress.

You may have read these three challenges and thought, “See? This is impossible.” And you’d be right – if we continue to try fitting all of these needs into the current evaluation structures. But what if we could think outside of the box about the idea of teacher evaluation? What if we could actually create a system that emphasizes teacher learning and growth?

In the coming weeks, my next three blogs in this series will…

  • Provide relevant research on what is actually helping teachers improve their craft;
  • Offer research-backed traits of effective evaluation systems;
  • And highlight workable strategies to help you build a growth-based evaluation system.

Also, the entire series is available in my new free ebook From “Gotcha” to Growth: Teacher Evaluation Systems That Work.


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