When was the last time you read an editorial in a major media outlet about the best way to evaluate, say, lawyers? Heard anything lately about how dentists, social workers, or editors are appraised? Chances are, however, you have read an op-ed or two about the subject of this month's Educational Leadership—teacher evaluation. Chances are, too, that its oversimplifications made you mad.
Unfortunately, in the quest for answers to vital questions affecting our children, those both outside and inside the field of education often paint complex issues with a broad brush. And creating an excellent teacher evaluation system—one that would raise student learning and nurture good teaching—is surely one of the more complex efforts of our times.
Authors in this issue of EL examine the nuances and consequences of systems that aim to be both rigorous and effective. They hold different systems up to the light—from peer-assisted review to the use of standards, rubrics, and inventories; from value-added measures that rely on student test data to surveys that are based on student and parent perceptions; from systems that emphasize observation and coaching to systems that combine many or all of the elements above.
Here are some of the warnings that echo throughout the issue.
Expertise doesn't emerge from being evaluated. Expertise only emerges through deliberate and informed practice, Paul Mielke and Tony Frontier (p. 10) write. Good teachers, not just strugglers, may need dozens of hours to learn a new strategy. "If the school views the need for improvement as a liability, why would teachers ever acknowledge the need for deliberate practice?" they ask. Paul Bambrick-Santoyo (p. 26) warns against the scoreboard model—that is, "the belief that if we grade our teachers in a truly comprehensive way, we'll drive student learning." He advocates instead, "a relentless loop of feedback, corrections, and improvement that builds talent." And that doesn't happen just once every six months.
Development should be more important than measurement. Robert J. Marzano (p. 14) surveyed educators about what they thought was the purpose of an evaluation system. Many said they used evaluation to rank and rate teachers, yet believed the more important purpose was to encourage improvement. Measurement is much simpler to achieve than development because a measurement system can omit such aspects of good teaching as student/teacher relationships and classroom management. Encouraging widespread excellence and eliminating the poorest performers are two different aims.
No system is infallible. In his cogent article on value-added instruction, Matthew Di Carlo (p. 38) writes: "Test-based teacher evaluations are probably the most controversial issue in education policy today. … Supporters of value-added scoring say it should dominate evaluations, whereas opponents say it has no legitimate role at all. It is as much of a mistake to use value-added estimates carelessly as it is to refuse to consider them at all." He explains why and how we must avoid the statistical noise inherent in test-based evaluations and warns that the impact of value-added scores is intensified if other components like teacher observations are not conducted well.
Exemplary teaching looks and sounds different across different classrooms. We could see a bigger picture, Rachael Gabriel and Richard Allington (p. 44) write, "if we could lift our eyes from a list of indicators and see whether classroom practice actually reflects the education we want for our children." Effective teachers attend to students' social and emotional growth as well as offer high-quality academic and cognitive support, but that doesn't mean they all do so in the same way. "Statistical dazzle and media coverage around measurement have created an illusion of objectivity that has obscured the limitations of statistical methods of determining teacher effectiveness."
A recent New York Times1
editorial on teacher evaluation expresses outrage that educators in the past believed both that teaching is an "art" that cannot be rigorously evaluated and that teachers should not be held accountable for student progress. After reviewing several very different evaluation systems, the editorial concludes that although many of the new programs are not perfect, they are "better than the slipshod systems they replaced."
Our authors in this issue see the details a little differently. They agree that teachers should be held accountable and that meaningless evaluation systems need to be replaced. But they are not eager to adopt any new system without evidence it is both fair and effective. They are looking for a workable system that will further the art of teaching—and they don't think aiming for that is outrageous.