How Should Teachers Be Evaluated? Let’s Ask Teachers

By Kevin Hart

Whether you’re chatting at the local barber shop or watching your favorite cable news program, everyone seems to have ideas about how teachers should be evaluated and paid. But one group that never seems to be asked for its opinion on this critical issue is the teachers themselves.

It’s a damaging omission, because teachers know better than anyone what constitutes effective teaching – and they also are aware of the type of feedback that will help them improve at their jobs. So NEA put the question to its teacher-fans on Facebook – how exactly do they think teachers should be evaluated?

Dozens of teachers from across the United States weighed in on the topic, and they all shared the same message – they want a rigorous evaluation process. They believe a well-designed process can help them improve at their jobs and will ultimately benefit students.

But teachers believe any evaluation process should be fair, consistently applied, and take into account the realities of their profession.

“I’d rather see some sort of comprehensive evaluation” said New Jersey teacher Sue Hill.  “Maybe a portfolio to be reviewed by a number of people, but not test scores. People’s schedules change from year to year. Sometimes you have high achievers, while other years you have kids who struggle. I don’t ever want to have my evaluations based on test scores.”

In fact, a study released this week by the Economic Policy Institute found that test scores  alone were not reliable indicators of teacher effectiveness. The study, written by a “who’s who” of leading educational researchers, including Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University and Diane Ravitch of New York Univsersity, found that there was “little or no evidence” that evaluating teachers using test scores would improve the quality of teachers in classrooms or motivate teachers.

But if test scores are not a reliable indicator of teacher performance, what is? The short answer seems to be that there is no short answer. Schools need to take a holistic, multi-factor approach to teacher evaluation, said Detroit teacher Cara Lougheed.

“It would need to combine student, parent, peer and administrative feedback,” she said. “It would also need to evaluate actual lesson plans and units, not just a day. It would have to have a self-evaluation component to reflect on personal growth.”

“Just like we should do with students, any assessment needs balance,” added Jill Dalbacka, a teacher from Duluth, MN. “If we use just one criteria, like test scores, it wouldn’t tell the whole picture. If doctors were only evaluated on their outcomes, we would have too many obstetricians and not enough oncologists.”

Kriten Lehnert Henningfield, a special education teacher from Wisconsin, said that the National Board Certification process may serve as a framework for building the more comprehensive evaluation process teachers seek. The process focuses not only on classroom instruction, but also on self evaluation and the use of open-ended, guiding questions to help teachers analyze their performance more critically and better understand where they can improve.

While the goal of an evaluation process should be to assist teachers, many teachers said they would like to see school administrators receive more support on how to conduct evaluations and use them to develop action plans that help teachers improve. Administrators frequently are asked to evaluate teachers in subjects areas about which the administrators are not particularly knowledgeable – a situation that can be frustrating for both administrators and teachers.

“I teach art and I get evaluated all the time by people who do not specialize in art,” said art teacher Jo Martyn-Fisher. “It’s mostly a revolving door of assistant principals learning the job before they go off and get their own school.”

Teachers consistently said they are willing to support rigorous assessments – as long as they are realistic and are applied fairly and consistently. They also said the tone around the teacher evaluation debate needs to change and focus more on supporting – not punishing – educators.

“If the intent is to help a teacher improve, I believe that most teachers would welcome it,” said Philip Jack, an instructor at Green River Community College in Washington. “If the intent is to ‘fire bad teachers’ or determine funding, anyone would feel angst. The next component would be teacher involvement at the local level. We need to realize that the ‘one size fits all’ approach to education is a major problem. Each program in each district faces unique challenges. It’s time to involve the real experts who work in those districts in designing the solutions.”

  • Maureen Gannon

    The evaluation process for teachers needs completely overhauled. The driving factors always put the responsibility back into the teachers’ laps to prove whether or not they’re doing their jobs. When I take that amount of time to showcase myself in perfectly worded and designed lesson plans complete with graphic data and portfolio pieces, there is little time in my ten hour work-day to focus on differentiating instruction to meet the needs of each of my students, not to mention any time to communicate with their parents and record all the pertinent data.

    I believe the evaluation should be the responsibility of a team of evaluators that includes grade level colleagues, site principal and/or direct supervisor, and parent input. I believe we teachers should not focus on a solitary observation by this team, but rather it is the team’s responsibility to informally observe and gather data that substantiates their recommendations. This would eliminate a great deal of work for everyone. If the team collaboratively agrees the teacher is effective and maintaining professional growth opportunities to stay abreast of current issues and applicable new and revised educational ideology, the evaluation over. If, on the other hand, the team collaboratively agrees there is need for intervention regarding the effectiveness of a given individual, then a mentor should be assigned to rectify the teacher’s weak areas or a written action plan for steps to improving the deficit should be provided and monitored. The current evaluation methods waste valuable time and cause unnecessary angst for all. Let’s focus on fixing a problem, not creating one.

  • Linda Blakney

    I don’t think the evaluation of a teacher’s performance should rest on the shoulders of one person (principal), but on several and other factors also taken into consideration. There should be feedback from colleagues, parents, students, and your own personal self-evaluation, along with the principals, and someone from the district. Since they insist on conducting school as a business, then this type of evaluation should be implemented, just as many larger cooperations do. It should also be considered your community envolvment, and your extended education experience, certificates, and degrees.

  • AL

    There is a simple solution how to hire good teachers. First, they must present proper qualifications and then fit into a certain BMI range so as not to influence our children into also becoming overweight in future years. I have seen teachers in grade school who can barely make it each day into a classroom. Most cannot fit into a normal chair, let alone stand for several minutes writing on a blackboard.

  • Betty Ungar Lapide

    There’s got to be a way to include ALL teachers in the evaluations and not only the academic instructors. Phys. Ed., Art, Music, Special Ed., etc. teachers need to be considered as aiding in each’s child’s progress every year. Possibly a total grade-level evaluation might work, as long as the criterion is “progress of a certain percentage of students” and not class versus class or year versus year.

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  • Tori Roi

    I do think student improvement should be a factor in evaluation, but not hopelessly unrealistic goals for all students. The bottom line is you want a teacher who will make every effort to see that their students get the concepts they are supposed to understand.

    Teachers need a clear, concise, but flexible curriculum, not a bunch of vague SPI’s, GLE’s, Performance indicators, etc., etc., ad nauseum. For example: students will “derive meaning while reading.” DUH! Restating the obvious in several different ways, all with special little numbers attached, will just make the planning process more difficult. The people who invent this stuff don’t have to deal with it. Everyone on the education food chain has to prove THEY are doing something to solve the problem. At the bottom are the teachers and students who have to live with the jumble of ideas the higher ups come up with to reinvent the wheel.

    Let’s not forget the instructional maps and curriculum outlines that don’t match each other, much less the textbooks. Our district has an outline borrowed from somewhere that starts school in September, even though we start in August, making all the seasonal stuff off by a month. It’s presented as updated, but many of the recommended internet links are no longer active.

    We also went from one ditch to another in our observations. We went from only being observed three times every five years to four times every year. Our principal has to arrive at 6:00 a.m. just to deal with the paperwork. Still, the powers that be can say they are trying to “improve” public education. What they are doing is muddying the waters to the point that teachers and kids are overwhelmed and confused.

    In spite of a little short term memory loss, I think I’m a reasonably intelligent person. Nevertheless, I feel lost in the sea of buzz words that are thrown around without any real substance. Just give us solid tools, and let us do our jobs!

  • Leah

    We are under so many mandates to meet testing requirements, all my principal does is push standardized testing, which shows little of the actual knowledge my largely ELL students are gaining in the classroom. Meanwhile, teachers salaries are cut, test-happy administrations thrive, and policies are enacted to take away a teacher’s security (tenure)-and evaluation? Ha!

    While receiving kudos for all that I have accomplished with my students from many, parents of my students far from care or are aware of their children’s learning. My principal does not bother to come by and look at the actual progress being made in my classroom. He only scolds teachers at faculty meetings and looks at numbers he can report to the feds. Should people so uninvolved with children’s education be responsible for determining my teaching abilities?

    Is learning about being able to take a multiple choice test and score as an “average” student at grade level might – whether the child is ELL, SPED, or not? Has thinking, writing, and developing meaningful characteristics such as empathy and developing an awareness of the world become secondary to the almighty multiple choice quiz? These 10+ hour days, with my own money paying for much of the classroom supplies, nonsensical blaming of teachers, and insipid evaluations are destroying quality education in America.

  • Lee Silver

    Soooo, you want to evaluate teachers: Okay, as a 25 year educator(recently retired) I suggest the following:

    Make teacher certification a national certification. If I can teach history in Arizona, I can probably teach it in Alabama. I may need to take a stae constitution test for my selected state, but my certiciation should be national. Additionally, have teachers (in the field of study) be evaluators along with administrators.

    Finally, get rid of the inanae policies related to educational testing and measured achievement put in place by people who have never been educators. Perhaps if we weren’t spending so much money on supporting professional esting companies, we could provide more money for classroom teachers.

    Just some thoughts.

  • P4ft11

    I’ve been a teacher for 20 years but only 6 in the public system. This year we began using student test data for 40% of our evaluation. I was given the low ELL students and together with my low income and special education students my goal was to have them all make a years progress in math and reading. If everyone made a years growth – I would receive a 4 rating (highest) if 60% made a years progress I would get a 4 and lower would receive a 2 or a 1. 58% of my second grade “gap group” kids made a years progress in math so I received a 2. I have done everything possible that I know to help these kids make progress and my evaluation was based on two 8 min. tests that were given to these students. I was devastated and have been miserable since I got my evaluation on Thursday. The students who didn’t pass were all low ELLs who either have learning issues (we’ve been told not to bring them up for child study though because it’s a language issue)or non-English speaking parents to help with homework. I even have parents who don’t read in their own language! How am I supposed to get these children to make a years growth?? I can honestly say this evaluation has made me want to get out of teaching and made me feel totally worthless.

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