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March 1, 1996
Vol. 53
No. 6

Can Teacher Evaluation Reflect Holistic Instruction?

Tomorrow the principal will evaluate me. I will create a version of my best direct instruction lesson. My principal will love the lesson and rate my teaching performance as excellent. Unfortunately, the lesson she will see has almost nothing to do with the way I really teach or the way I believe children learn.
A master teacher with 12 years of teaching experience, Ms. S. expresses the frustration of a growing number of highly competent teachers toward professional evaluation (Black 1993, Rooney 1993). As the constructivist philosophy of education profoundly changes the way teachers view learning and instruction (Brooks and Brooks 1993, Smith 1993), the traditional checklist with nary a mention of integrated teaching approaches has become a conspicuous dinosaur in American schools (Walen and DeRose 1993).
In the last few years, we have been working with teachers and administrators to develop alternative ways to assess teaching and learning in classrooms that endorse holistic, integrated approaches consistent with the constructivist perspective. Although we have encountered some barriers to eliminating the old instruments, we have found many reasons to change evaluation practices.

The Dual Purposes of Evaluation

Traditionally, teacher evaluation has served two unequal purposes. Its primary purpose has been to determine a teacher's suitability for continued employment. Fewer educators have considered evaluation as a way to provide teachers with feedback on performance and stimulate reflective thought. Professional development—clearly the more beneficial purpose of evaluation—regrettably has less formal support in schools (Furtwengler 1992, Rooney 1993).
Since the early 1980s, most teacher evaluation systems have reflected a direct instruction model (Elmore 1992). This model evolved after research on effective schools indicated that higher standardized test scores could be correlated to specific teaching behaviors (Berliner 1982, Brophy and Good 1986). These behaviors were commonly known as the Essential Elements of Instruction (Hunter 1982). Significant problems arose when districts translated these behaviors into teacher evaluation instruments. Soon evaluators began to look for all elements of direct instruction within every lesson they observed (Brandt 1992).
In our recent work at 20 schools, we observed that teachers engaged in holistic practice received far less feedback in their evaluations, as the philosophical mismatch between holistic/constructivistic and direct instruction approaches hit head-on. Or, in the words of one teacher, "Can the attributes of oranges be fairly measured by criteria developed for grapes?"
Our study began with several questions: What were principals' and teachers' perceptions of direct instruction instruments? Were these instruments fair and valid measures of holistic practice? Did the current evaluation process provide opportunities for feedback and self-reflection?
To determine perceptions of evaluation in holistic classrooms, we interviewed principals and teachers from seven districts in the central urban core of Phoenix, Arizona. All schools served low socioeconomic, multilingual, and multicultural populations.

Principals' Views

The 20 principals interviewed were female, representing many ethnic backgrounds and ranging widely in age and years of administrative experience. Ten principals and their faculties had declared a major commitment to constructivist practice. The other 10 principals were familiar with holistic views but had limited experience evaluating this type of instruction.
As we analyzed each principal's responses, three patterns emerged. First, all the principals, even the leaders of holistic schools, felt that the direct instruction instrument used in their respective districts accurately identified effective teachers. Second, although the instrument could discern poor-from-average and average-from-strong performances, the principals reported the instrument as "inadequate and limited" in its ability to capture the nature of teacher/student interactions within the learning environment. Third, most principals admired holistic practice and named and praised holistic teachers for their expert abilities. One principal even said, "It's a shame our evaluation instrument doesn't do justice to their teaching style."
We then asked the principals to imagine how they might augment or replace the present assessment device to improve the evaluation of teachers engaged in holistic practice. To our surprise, all 20 principals expressed reluctance to alter the status quo, even after complaining about weaknesses in the current evaluation instrument! The principals' "what for?" theme was summarized in this response: Even though the instrument doesn't show what they do, holistic teachers top out on the assessment. It doesn't affect their district status (merit pay, in this case). Why change it?
The principals identified yet another theme concerning their legal responsibilities, which we tagged the "what if?" response. "What if" a teacher filed a grievance or sued over poor teacher evaluations, they wanted to know. They stressed the districts' desires to apply consistent evaluation criteria for all teachers, to provide a common interpretation of teacher performance (inter-rater reliability), and to protect from litigation.
Finally, the principals talked about the time required for the evaluation process. They expressed the "even if" theme this way: Even if I had a more compatible instrument, I would not have the time to evaluate the teachers one more time. I'm lucky if I manage to complete the number of required observations on time.
The principals "what for," "what if," "even if," and "maintain-the-status-quo" attitudes confused us. Was it unrealistic to develop an alternative teacher evaluation instrument? For a number of reasons, the principals, even those leading holistic schools, did not endorse changing the direct instruction instruments. Were we trying to build a better mousetrap when there was no perceived threat of mice? Or had the principals overlooked the most relevant reason for evaluation—professional growth?

Teachers' Views

To understand the other perspective, we interviewed 36 teachers who followed holistic, integrated practices. Their experience in the classroom ranged from 5 to 23 years. These teachers concurred that direct instruction instruments were not valid measurements of their teaching. Almost all taught direct instruction lessons when their principals observed their classrooms rather than try to "explain or defend their beliefs or practices." Nearly half of the teachers stated that their principals have a "strong theoretical and practical understanding" of holistic practice. The others said their principals were naive to this practice; they said their principals' attitudes ranged from mildly interested to "very unsupportive." Even the 17 teachers who had "holistic-sensitive" administrators reported that their principals asked them to present a brief, direct instruction lesson strictly for observation purposes.
All the teachers expressed anger and disappointment that the "quality of discovery learning and student interactions was discounted." In addition, they reported feeling unappreciated and unvalued, even though their principals had rated them highly. Most important, they viewed observations of their classes as "missed opportunities" for principals to discover how students learned in holistic classrooms and how teachers and students developed a classroom community of learners. Teachers also felt that they missed opportunities for meaningful feedback and collegial discussions about and the complex pedagogy of their practice.
These teachers have become highly frustrated after years of missed opportunities. This frustration, in turn, appears to contribute to feelings of isolation—from other teachers and their principals. These feelings were most pronounced among teachers who worked in schools with principals they perceived as being unfamliar with holistic practice. These teachers particularly needed recognition for and feedback about their practice. All teachers wanted to discuss their philosophy, their own growth as teachers, and their students' development. Further, as one teacher so powerfully expressed it, they sought "dialogues with others, to learn more about my craft, to share what I've learned, both the frustrations and the joys."

Why Bother to Evaluate?

After our interviews and research, a new question emerged. Why bother to evaluate teacher performance if it only perpetuates the status quo (principals' view) and causes nothing but frustration over missed opportunities (teachers' view)? We found the answer in the teachers' comments—their strong need to talk about their teaching and the ways they were improving their instruction. As one teacher stated, "This is beyond evaluation; this is my professional growth." This, we believe, is the most compelling argument for evaluating teachers and for developing methodologically sensitive instruments.
We were even more certain about this purpose of evaluation after reviewing recent research on supervision (Costa and Kallick 1993, Glickman 1992, Leithwood 1992). It provided evidence that the evaluation of teachers' professional growth has never been or should never be the sole domain of the principal. To promote professional development, teachers must become an integral part of the assessment process within their schools. If teachers and administrators work together to craft and tailor an instrument and a peer-inclusive evaluation system, the opportunity for self-reflection and professional growth will become a reality.

How One School Developed a New Assessment System

Teachers at several of the schools expressed interest in creating an instrument that was sensitive to and appropriate for holistic practices. After securing support from the principal at one of the schools, we discussed the project with district officials. By addressing the problem of an inappropriate assessment instrument, we hoped that the teachers and principal would have the opportunity to create a new school environment with new professional roles and responsibilities. What we had initially envisioned as the ultimate product, a new instrument, became merely a tool to facilitate discussion and much less important than the process through which it evolved. As Costa and colleagues (1988) wrote: As individuals engage in problem-solving, coaching and conversation, multiple perspectives are expressed, dissonance created and reduced, discrepancies perceived and resolved, alternatives weighed, options selected, and consequences considered and evaluated. (p. 156)Such was the case for this faculty. The teachers and principal jointly decided that they would need to use dual instrumentation until the pilot instrument was tested and approved. They also decided that teachers and the evaluator would collaboratively develop the instrument and negotiate for agreement of form, content, and procedures. We assisted this process by guiding discussions, sharing professional literature, and translating the dialogue into drafts of the instrument and notes related to the evaluation process.
The collaboration was active and often intense, as the many ideas about assessment procedures reflected continual professional growth. After nearly a year of development, the instrument and the new process for peer assessment was ready for use.
In place of simply checking off how teachers adhered to a sequence of lesson steps, the new instrument allowed appropriate observation of the learning process in holistic classrooms. Named The Holistic Integrated Classroom Observation/Assessment Guide, it organized the observation of classroom activities into three categories: classroom environment, instructional strategies, and student assessment.
According to the instrument, the ideal classroom environment is a community of learners where literacy and independent inquiry are encouraged. The evaluator begins the observation by sketching the layout of the classroom—desks, tables, learning centers, and so on—to judge whether the environment encourages and supports learning and student interactions. He or she also records evidence of printed materials, wall displays, and listening centers, for example, that encourage language interaction.
To evaluate instructional strategies, the instrument development team incorporated descriptions of typical activities in a holistic, integrated classroom, such as shared reading, story prediction, and free retell, which the evaluator documents. The evaluator also records evidence of a classroom library, dialogue journals, and buddy reading.
Because holistic teachers use student self-assessment and alternative assessment methods to evaluate student performance, the student assessment section of the instrument focuses on the teacher as interpreter and documenter of student interactions with peers and content. The evaluator is encouraged to hold a follow-up conference at which time the teacher can detail (1) how students assess themselves—through personal report cards and self-help strategies, for example—and (2) how the teacher assesses students' oral fluency—through class discussions, on the playground, and with classmates during group work.
The process of creating the instrument offered the teachers much self-reflection and greatly enhanced their ability to describe and assess their own practice. As colleagues worked together, their trust increased.
Because the instrument development team felt it was not feasible for the principal to provide the quantity of instructional feedback teachers desired, the next step was to provide training in peer coaching. Teachers learned how to script lessons, use the new instrument to guide their observations, and how to conduct a collegial conference. As part of this process, the principal shared many of the techniques she had learned through her experiences as an evaluator.

Evaluation through Collaboration

As teachers assumed a dominant role in developing an evaluation instrument for themselves, they also gained valuable insights into their own teaching. They now had ample opportunities for dialogues about their practice, and they felt empowered as they grew. Learning to use the instrument for self- and peer-assessment encouraged the teachers' personal and group reflection. One teacher expressed the group's collective views: The discussions that led to the creation of the instrument allowed me to better explain what I do and believe to parents. My role as peer coach causes me to examine my own teaching more closely. I believe I am becoming a better teacher through this process.
We believe that there is no room for maintaining the status quo in teacher evaluation—and that we should not continue to use instruments that ignore the learning that occurs in holistic, integrated classrooms. What has emerged from the work of these teachers and principals is not only an instrument but a collaborative evaluation process that gives teachers the opportunity to grow professionally together.

Black, S. (1993). "How Teachers Are Reshaping Evaluation Procedures." Educational Leadership 50, 6: 38-42.

Berliner, D. C. (1982). "Recognizing Instructional Variables." In Introduction to Education, edited by D. E. Orlosky, pp. 198-222. Columbus, Ohio: Merrill.

Brandt, R. (1992). "On Research on Teaching: A Conversation with Lee Shulman." Educational Leadership 49, 7: 14-19.

Brophy, J. E., and T. L. Good. (1986). "Teacher Behavior and Student Achievement." In Handbook of Research on Teaching, 3rd ed., edited by M. C. Wittrock, pp. 328-376. New York: Macmillan.

Brooks, J. G., and M. G. Brooks. (1993). In Search of Understanding: The Case for Constructivist Classrooms. Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Costa, A. L., and B. Kallick. (1993). "Through the Lens of a Critical Friend." Educational Leadership 51, 2: 49-51.

Costa, A. L., R. J. Garrstan, and L. Lambert. (1988). "Evaluation of Teaching: The Cognitive Development View." In Teacer Evaluation: Six Prescriptions for Success, edited by S. J . Stanley and W. J. Popham, pp. 145-172. Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Elmore, R. F. (1992). "Why Restructuring Alone Won't Improve Teaching." Educational Leadership 49, 7: 44-48.

Furtwengler, C. B. (1992). "How to Observe Cooperative Learning Classrooms." Educational Leadership 49, 7: 59-62.

Glickman, C. D., ed. (1992). Supervision in Transition: 1992 ASCD Yearbook. Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Hunter, M. (1982). Mastery Teaching. El Segundo, Calif.: TIP Publications.

Leithwood, K. A. (1992). "The Move Toward Transformational Leadership." Educational Leadership 49, 5: 8-12.

Rooney, J. (1993). "Teacher Evaluation: No More Super'vision." Educational Leadership 51, 2: 43-44.

Smith, K. (1993). "Becoming the Guide on the Side." Educational Leadership 51, 2: 35-37.

Walen, E., and M. DeRose. (1993). "The Power of Peer Appraisals." Educational Leadership 51, 2: 45-48.

Lyndon W. Searfoss has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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