Posted by Barnett Berry on Tuesday, 03/11/2014
Recently we asked members of the CTQ Collaboratory—including practicing teachers, administrators, union officials, and other engaged citizens—to rate their level of agreement with this statement: “Current evaluation systems help teachers significantly improve their practice.” Not surprisingly, the great majority—more than 75% of respondents—disagreed, with nearly one-fourth expressing their strong disagreement.
We encouraged Collaboratory members to unpack their responses a bit more. They cited a number of reasons why evaluation systems are falling short.
Some teachers feel the metrics used in evaluations are not valid. For example, educators in grades preK-2 and English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) teachers do not believe their effectiveness can be measured based on the test scores of children with whom they have little to no interaction. They want to be held accountable—but only for those students whom they actually teach. It is estimated that only about one-third of educators teach subjects and grade levels for which standardized tests actually exist. As a result, many teachers are evaluated using surrogate test scores.
Administrators as evaluators
Other survey respondents shared concerns about administrators’ lack of time, training, and (in some cases) teaching expertise to properly observe and reflect on teachers’ performance. As one teacher explained:
I see my own administrators less than I used to. They are not as accessible, and I can tell they feel buried in paperwork. We have a 30-page rubric for every teacher. When filling out the evaluation forms is tedious and stressful, how good can the evaluation be in terms of professional growth?
Primary Sources survey
In February, Scholastic, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, released results from the Primary Sources survey, which included a much larger sample of America’s teachers (20,000). The results revealed a great deal about teachers’ experiences with a wide range of reforms, including how they are assessed and judged. Almost 70 percent reported that their school systems have “transitioned” to a new, more rigorous approach to teacher evaluation that uses multiple metrics, including more classroom observations, stronger criteria, and evidence of student learning through standardized test scores.
Here is what the national sample of teachers tells us:
- Only eight percent of respondents found their evaluations to be “extremely helpful.”
- Only six percent strongly agree that state standardized tests are accurate measures of student learning. In comparison, 39 percent strongly agree that portfolios of student work and students’ performance on projects and assignments are accurate measures of student learning.
- More than two-thirds (69 percent) reported feedback had helped them improve their practice, yet only 13 percent received customized professional development.
- Similarly, just 17 percent have received classroom supports and resources to meet their needs.
- Newer teachers (teaching four years or less) are more likely to receive customized support and resources than their more veteran colleagues.
- Teachers in districts and states with newly transitioned evaluation systems are no more likely to receive follow-up support and resources to improve their practice than teachers in districts with unchanged evaluation systems.
- When asked what could be done to improve their evaluation, 42 percent of teachers requested more personalized feedback in a timely manner. One middle school teacher summarized it well: “I wish that teachers could receive feedback on a regular basis that was a narrative of what we are doing well and where we need to grow.”
Collaboratory members’ responses
The Primary Sources data mirror the responses from Collaboratory members: many teachers believe current evaluation systems fail to offer specific, actionable supports for improvement. All teachers—even those deemed as effective—desire customized professional learning opportunities and ongoing support to hone their craft. One Collaboratory member reflected:
I am considered to be an excelling teacher according to the [evaluation] rubric, but I could improve my instruction and would like to know how.
Yet there is hope. Many educators believe that teachers themselves are well-suited to observe and evaluate their peers—which would free up time for burdened administrators and offer mutually beneficial learning opportunities for all involved. Nicole Huff, a former peer evaluator in Florida, observed firsthand how much her own practice developed from serving in that key role:
[Working as a peer evaluator] changed who I was as a teacher and how I think about lesson planning and teaching now. I learned so much from watching others and getting the opportunity to think about these lessons from the standpoint of the students in the room.
When teachers help develop and implement evaluation systems, they feel more invested. One Collaboratory member from Kentucky lauded his state’s efforts to involve teachers throughout the planning process:
From everything I have read or experienced about the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES) implementation in our state, it will promote teacher autonomy in choosing logical next steps for professional development for teachers that are masters of their craft. The PGES, if driven by teachers, has the potential to change the entire conversation about professionalizing teaching in Kentucky.
We agree. Robust evaluation systems, if driven by teachers, have the potential to transform the teaching profession. Highly successful countries like Singapore have already developed and implemented systems that evaluate teachers’ performance as well as offer feedback and supports for improvement—beginning in teachers’ preservice programs. It’s time for states and districts in the U.S. to stop falling short and start tapping into teachers’ knowledge and skills to create and sustain stronger, more effective evaluation systems.