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February 20, 2018

The Big Bet: Creating Teacher Evaluations That Work

In some regards, it has.

The Positive Impact of Evaluation Systems

Over the past few years, 45 states have revised their educator evaluation practices. In most cases, states have implemented more robust evaluation processes for educators. This includes:

  • More frequent observations;
  • Better frameworks and rubrics to assess instructional practice;
  • More intensive training for evaluators;
  • And of course, the inclusion of student achievement measures.

While these efforts weren’t always popular, the intent was to make procedural changes to ensure that educators were receiving the targeted feedback they needed to improve the practice, with the ultimate goal of improving outcomes for students.

In some cases, such as Washington, DC and New Mexico, recent studies have shown that the new evaluation systems can indeed impact both teacher practice and student achievement. As someone who has worked in districts that have implemented new systems of evaluation and support, I’ve seen firsthand the impact they can have when implemented with the goal of improvement – but only when school leaders and other observers were equipped with the right tools (and mindsets) that allowed and encouraged a formative, teacher-led process. Not only was feedback delivered by a credible observer or coach, but it was followed by concrete supports, ongoing formative follow-up conversations, and opportunities for teachers to practice new strategies and receive additional feedback on their effectiveness. In my experience, teachers want feedback. In fact, I’d argue that they’re hungry for it. However, feedback is only helpful when it’s part of a structure that supports growth and isn’t driven solely by compliance and accountability.

Perception vs. Reality

Although we’ve seen progress, some might argue we’re still losing the big bet. If evaluation is intended to improve teaching practice, then something isn’t working. In all but a few of these 45 states, no real progress has been made in moving the needle – in either quality of instruction or student achievement. A recent review of 19 states that have adopted new teacher evaluation systems since 2009 found that most of these states are still rating less than 1% of their teachers “ineffective,” despite teachers themselves indicating in a national poll that they would assign letter grades of D to 8% of teachers and F to 5% of teachers in their local schools.

So according to these evaluations, 99% of teachers are considered “effective,” yet student achievement has remained stagnant. Data collected by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in 2015 indicates that, on average, 17-year-olds scored 152 in math (compared to 150 in 2005) and 287 in reading (compared to 286 in 2005). These scores have remained within the margin of sampling error since 1998, and all fall short of proficiency.

But all is not lost. Not yet, anyway.

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

  • Reveal key reasons why teacher evaluations aren’t yet working;
  • 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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