For the past year, we’ve seen the topic of teacher evaluation quickly evolving into a West Side Story-like knife fight. With dramatic flourishes and emotional highs and lows, the status quoers and reform community have been circled each other on how to effectively evaluate teachers.
Amid all of the snapping and jazz hands, most teachers walk away with a “satisfactory” rating, as anticipated by the current systems. And while some may say teachers can’t (and shouldn’t) be effectively evaluated, and we should just trust that all teachers are doing the best jobs possible, we know that simply isn’t the case.
Today, the good folks over at Education Trust released Fair to Everyone: Building the Balanced Teacher Evaluations that Educators and Students Deserve. In is policy paper, EdTrust issues the call to eliminate current “drive-by evaluations” and instead focus on evaluation systems that “provide specific, timely, and actionable feedback against clear standards of professional practice.”
Noting that teacher evaluation systems can vary across states and districts, EdTrust focuses its recommendations on two primary components that should be found in any eval system worth its salt:
1) Multiple visits by well-trained observers who evaluate teacher practice based on a clear set of performance standards
2) Measures of teacher impact on student learning, such as multiple years’ worth of value-added data
By focusing on value-added measures (and EdTrust’s descriptions of how value-added works is particularly valuable to those new to the discussion), EdTrust helps spotlight that there is real science behind effective teacher evaluation, but such effective evaluations require a comprehensive approach that ultimately benefits the schools, classrooms, teachers, and students involved.
So it begs a few questions. What states and districts are doing it right? What specifically can we take from their experiences — good, bad, and ugly? How do we drive more to adopt those best or even promising practices? What obstacles are keeping us from embracing the sorts of teacher evals that can make a difference? And how do we demonstrate real ROI, particularly for the teacher and students involved?
As is typical, the questions are easier than the answers. But clearly, we must do something. With The New Teacher Project citing data that only 43 percent of teachers agreeing that the current evaluation systems help teachers improve while nearly three-quarters agree that “how much students are learning compared with students in other schools” is a good indicator of success of a teacher, too many of the current teacher eval systems simply aren’t getting to the heart of the matter. EdTrust again provides a compass. Now we have to begin to chart a course.