How Do High-Performing Nations Evaluate Teachers?

worldmapWho decides if a teacher is effective and how is that determination made? School systems across the United States are struggling to answer that question as they try to design and implement teacher evaluation systems that are fair and accurate. It’s no easy task and is not limited to public schools in this country. School systems around the world are tackling the same issue and are finding consensus among education stakeholders to be elusive.

Teacher evaluations were the main topic of discussion at the 2013 International Summit on the Teaching Profession (ISTP) Summit held in March in Amsterdam.  Now in its third year, the ISTP brought together leaders from teacher unions and education ministries to discuss issues around teacher quality, specifically the criteria used to determine teacher effectiveness and its purpose.

In most nations, teacher evaluation systems are essentially a “work in progress,” says Andreas Schleicher of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development  (OECD).   Schleicher, who attended the ISTP, is the principal author of the study that was presented at the summitt. The report, Teachers for the 21st Century: Using Evaluations to Improve Teaching, takes a look at how different nations are tackling this thorny issue (or not tackling it) and identifying specific models that appear to work – that is, have buy-in from key stakeholders and can point to demonstrable results in student achievement. Because consensus is so frustratingly elusive, most nations are treading carefully, although there is widespread acknowledgement that improved evaluation systems have to be on the menu of education policy reforms.

Of the 28 countries surveyed in the OECD report, 22 have formal policy frameworks in place at the national level to regulate teacher evaluations. The six education systems that do not have such frameworks include Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, but teachers in the countries still received professional feedback. In Denmark, for example, teachers receive feedback from their school administrators once a year. In Norway, teacher-appraisal policies are designed and implemented at the local or school level. In Iceland, evaluation is left to the discretion of individual schools and school boards.

In high-ranking Finland, the national ministry of education plays no role in teacher evaluation. Instead, broad policies are defined in the contract with the teachers’ union. Teachers are then typically appraised against the national core curriculum and the school development plan. Finland, of course, is known for having no standardized testing, obviously then making it impossible for it to be used as a tool for teacher evaluation. (Finland’s education system does just fine without it).

Still, the use of test scores is commonly used as a measure of teacher effectiveness by the nations surveyed by OECD. About 60 percent of teachers said these scores are generally useful.

But none of these nations use them as bluntly as the United States. Blowback against standardized testing has at least forced some districts to revisit evaluations. Within the last two years, more than 20 states have adopted legislation to revise their teacher evaluation systems, and school districts in every state have implemented evaluation reforms. In some states, policymakers have consulted NEA affiliates and worked with them to develop comprehensive evaluation systems based on multiple measures of student achievement and traditional classroom observations.

“If we really want systems that help all students reach their full potential, we must allow educators, parents, students and communities to be a part of the process and have a stronger voice in the conversations around high-quality assessments that really do support student learning,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel.

Wariness over the misuse of test scores runs throughout the school systems in most nations – an acknowledgment that they cannot provide a complete picture of teaching quality and that multiple sources of evidence are required (many countries include parent and student surveys as well as classroom observations, and peer and principal assessment). In addition, representatives at the ISTP agreed that teacher-appraisal systems must include high-quality professional development, good working conditions, support from administrators, and a prominent role for teachers in designing new policies.

Singapore, another top-performing nation that also generally disavows test scores,emphasizes teacher collaboration in their evaluation systems. Singapore also has a rigorous professional development program which focuses on how to evaluate, mentor, and coach newer educators. Teachers are entitled up to 100 hours of professional development every year and often work in teams–priorities that reflect the country’s philosophy that the key to a first rate teacher force is to provide educators with the right incentives.

Delegations at the ISTP agreed that when teacher evaluation systems are developed with the participation of teachers and their unions, they are more likely to win the trust of teachers and provide schools with relevant and valuable information.

Or as Hong Kong Professor Kai-Ming Cheng noted, “successful evaluation will help teachers think about students, and unsuccessful evaluation will make them think about themselves and their career.”

  • I agree with you Mr.Tim Walker the Schooling System Across the Globe is in danger although USA is struggling to improve the system and I believe the Teacher Evaluation Program is a good Idea but future benefits of that Idea is still in jeopardy. I wish you all the best and looking forward to it.

  • Susan Nunes

    The problem in education isn’t with teachers. That is utter garbage anyway. Students and students alone are responsible for their learning. If they can’t or won’t learn, a teacher can do NOTHING about it. All a teacher can do is deliver the content and assess.

    A more careful look at administrators is needed to understand what is REALLY going on in public school districts, but the privatizers aren’t interested in the truth. After all, they are made up of the same sociopathic cloth far too many principals are made up of.

  • Eric Medrano

    I would have to argue against the statement that the “problem” with public education are students. Extensive research shows that a teacher is one of, if not the key element for student achievement. I will not argue that children in the US bring different social and cultural experiences into the classroom, however, teachers are the key factors in allowing ANY and ALL children to be successful in the classroom. Great instruction involves creating an appropriate learning environment with systematic instructional scaffolding along with intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, all coming from the teacher.

    Most if not all teachers want their students to succeed. If a teacher is struggling to reach this goal, that is when effective administration becomes involved. Do ineffective principals exist? Absolutely. However, we must understand the gap of the ineffective administrator before we determine that they are the problem.

    Classroom teachers DO have the power to lead ANY student to success regardless of what the students preconceived notion is on learning. They are not the “problem” to student failure but are the absolute reason behind student success!

  • Bev Smith

    There is a lot more to it than people want to admit. At my high school, the attendance policy is not enforced and all seniors graduate regardless of grades. The lower grades have figured this out as well. I have done the math and about 30% of my students miss at least 1 day a week. Then if a student is not passing they expect “extra credit” even if they have not done the regular assignments. Sometimes this request will come from higher up. And if a senior has a failing grade, you have to give them the extra work until they pass. Even if they don’t do the extra work, we are expected to pass them to keep our graduation rate up. The students have figured out that it is all optional, and they don’t have to do anything or even be here. I am very disheartened in my profession that I love. And this holds back the top performing students who could do so much more.

  • Dave Bessette

    I think it is important to realize that the U.S. uses a system that forces all kids to go to school until their 18, with the same expectation that we are producing doctors and lawyers. Whereas most of our children do not wish to become anything of this nature. Now I don’t want to employ a system that tracks students to something like in other nations, but I do think that we should have additional schools that only gear high school age children to the path of a technological degree of their choosing.

  • Greg

    To those posters above speaking on effective administration. How can a 30 something principal with no outside experience support teachers. The younger principals I have dealt with are arrogant and don’t like it when they are wrong and they usually take it out on staff. I asserted myself with one of them and of course in their own educational childish manner put me in the dog house. Being put in the doghouse effects me but more importantly it effects students!
    I have been out on leave and had a parent call me in tears about the way her son is being treated. Believe me, if I were that child’s father I would be right down to that school and go see that principal hand have him page the teacher to answer some questions. Greg

  • Gary`

    My Wife works at a K-8 school, although she is not a teacher she has been in the public system for 26 years. Over those years she has said there must be a way to weed out employee’s that are not doing there jobs.

    I feel that the one group that knows which teachers are good and those that are bad are the teachers themselves. The thing is teachers are not going to rat on each other. Until they do we see more inept ways to evaluate teachers.

    It is up to the teachers to kick the people that are not performing out of their profession. You know who they are do something about it.

  • Julian

    There is too much politics in everything, especially education. I used to teach, but not any more. Too many high school aged “students” are so lazy to carry even a pencil, much less anything else. I second the comments about ineffective administrators. they are in administration so they don’t have to try and teach. In the real world, workers have to show up on time and have to do their work. If you are absent or late too much, you will lose your job. We have worried about “good” teachers so long that we forgot to expect students to be “good” students. I don’t care how hard you try, you can’t teach lazy fools effectively.

  • Richard

    I am not a teacher. My wife is and I’m in Law Enforcement. For the past 19 years I have seen my wife spend hours grading at home, making hundreds of phone calls to parents, even visiting parents at their homes all to help her students succeed. What I see as an outsider, with a little insight is this. Somewhere in the last 25 years our country and eduction system has demanded that the education system teach core values that should be taught at home. It is not the school system or the government’s role to teach kids how to be respectful responsible citizens. That role is the parent’s responsibility.

    We now have several generations of people who feel entitled to whatever they want and when they want it. The idea that students and parents share the biggest role in a child’s success has been lost. This responsibility is being pushed solely upon teachers whithout regard to parental involvement and student application.

    If the sole evaluation of a teacher’s effectiveness / performance is based upon test scores of students, we as a society are failing our kids.

    Let teachers get back to teaching reading, writing, arithmetic, science and most of all inspire a hunger for learning and knowledge. Leave the morals and belief systems to the parents. Then and only then can we OBJECTIVELY evaluate the teacher’s role in a student’s success or failure.

  • Scott

    People in the know about public education are the teachers. They are the ones that know the ups and downs of the profession. All teachers agree that we as a profession would like to upgrade our standards, however administrators and politics get in the way of doing so. Administrators do not have tenure and therefore make most of their decisions on how a situation will effect them and their job security. Subsequently, poor decisions are made about teachers, students, and curriculum. Look for the new book “The Teacher’s Perspective: Problems and Solutions with American Education” coming out this summer.

  • Joan Rutherford

    I retired from teaching sixteen years ago after a 37-year career. I finished my work as a mid-level administrator. I was successful and well-respected in my district. I can’t say there weren’t problems along the way, but I managed to help my students achieve their goals. Many of them are doctors, Ph.D.’s, journalists, authors, and others work in all kinds of professions.
    My daughter just finished her nineteenth year, and it will also be her last in the profession. She has received excellent evaluations in the past. She knows how to teach. This past year she moved to another state and taught in a new, for her, high school. She was expected to purchase the markers, erasers and cleaning fluid for the white board in her classroom, the ink cartridges for the printer in her classroom, tissues for sniffling students, paper and pencils for those who “forgot” to bring them to class, and every other supply needed for her to teach and control her classroom. She was told what to teach and dhow many class periods she could have to teach it. If someone did not fully understand the material in that time frame? …move on. She was observed by her principal and several others (at the same time) and was never contacted for a follow-up meeting to discuss the observation. She did not know the others who came into her room with the principal. She was assigned A student to tutor, and the student’s teacher refused to give her the materials from that classroom with which to work. Her comment to my daughter was,”You could never do the same job that I do, so I won’t give you my lessons.” When she asked for help in getting the assignments, she was rebuffed by the Assistant Principal. When she called a parent at home to discuss the student’s lack of work, the parent in turn called the school to complain that she had called! This went on and on, and she finally called it quits. When she tried to talk to the union about what was happening, the reply she got was “…that’s the way it is here.” (The union there is NOT affiliated with the NEA.) Another good one lost.

  • The biggest question I had during the description of the teacher evaluation process was “who gets to evaluate the administrators?” Shouldn’t we have input in their evals similar to a college student and the professor at the end of the semester? This would only help them grow as they are helping us…
    The other suggestion I offered was the district should put together a team to travel building to building to do the teacher evaluations to get rid of the politics (popularity contest) that has been created. Heck, they could even do administrator evaluations.
    I see classrooms that are out of control, students who do no work, and yet the teacher is “highly effective” cause the administrator is too busy being a buddy instead of a boss. It is a maturity issue for the young administrators, as well as an ego issue. Bringing in an outside evaluating team would get rid of many of the issues this whole evaluation process has created

  • Louise

    What I have experienced in my long career as a teacher was a slow deterioration of sound, effective decision making. Unfortunately, this will continue as long as we have politicians, money, and self-serving administrators making decisions for the teachers and students. Those classroom teachers who HAVE to make it all work, assuming THEY are competent, should be making curriculum and testing decisions. Those who have never taught should NOT be imposing policies.
    As for why a student fails, everyone should stand up and take a bow because we all have somehow failed that child. Those in education have done too much finger pointing when it is everyone’s responsibility to make sure a kid doesn’t slip through this screwed up system. First, the parents need to step up, then the school, then the community. Maybe if we start to join forces and all work together for the good of the students, we won’t have as many failures. We, as a society, should never ever give up on a student.
    As for you teachers who think you can’t make a difference in a child’s education, you are wrong. You are positioned to be the best person in a child’s life who really can make a difference, no matter what you have been dealt, unless you are dealing with psychopathic issues.

  • Adriana Saavedra

    The proliferation of testing has come to a ridiculous point where too much time is set aside for this purpose: CAHSEE, STAR, AP, English proficiency, military enrollment purposes, SAT, EAP…

    Students just finished a week of STAR testing to go straight to a battery of AP tests. It is almost futile to teach them anything during this time. What am I suppose to be doing with the rest of the class not testing?

    Obviously, this is the result of having so many outsiders (politicians) providing “ideas” without having the slightest clue of what happens inside the classrooms.

    If a desire to evaluate is so crucial, it should be done during one sole period of time in the school year, close to the end, dividing students in three categories: regular, advanced and English learners.

    Curriculum has become more and more academic. Students graduate without a clue of the value of labor. An appropriate reform should include incorporating trades throughout all levels fostering love for artisanship, a natural breastfeeding program to provide a good start for every newborn and, youth that guarantees the care for elders through community service.

    Meantime it is unfair, and unconscionable, to hold teachers accountable for all the ills befallen the society by the lack of parental guidance and supervision at home in the absence of strong programs to subside these deficiencies.

  • Elizabeth

    I’ve taught for almost 7 years and I think that next year will be my last year. I’m feed up with giving students with Intellecutal Disabilities, Autism, and other severe disabilities a grade level test. I teach selfxcontained and some of my students aren’t potty trianed or a non-verbal! How is that fair? By defintion to qualify for specilized instruction our students typically are 2-3 grade levels behind! And then they want 50% of my evaluation to come from test scores.

    I got one of these young principals. Half the custodial staff transfered in the middle of the year. Its just becomes more hostile, depressing, and resource starved as the years go on. Did I mention we hadn’t had a pay raise in almsot 3 years? And the raise was a slap in the face instead of going up 3 steps we went up just 1 step! I think I’m going back to school to get into speech pathology or occupational theraphy! Not worth it anymore!

  • Patrick

    I suppose I should get use to the fact that all of the sins we so easily find and ascribe to others are just as present within the field of public education they are on Wall Street or in the halls of our legislators. Somehow, hypocrisy, power plays, control issues, ineptness and decisions rooted not in what is best for people but what is best for certain people’s control and use of money are all things that I, naively, still think should not be permitted to take hold in our public schools.

    The “crisis” in education is real, too many students are dropping out, discipline is out of control, and graduating students are increasingly ill-prepared for college and careers. Well meaning folks are alarmed and demand knee jerk solutions. And, instead of pursing a collaborative approach to mitigate these real problems, the “reformers” proffer their “rigorous” answers and “easy” solutions: standardize test all students as much as possible, tie teacher pay/jobs to a performance metric, convince politicians to pass laws that limit teacher’s rights, use the media to scare the public into demonizing teachers’ unions, play the charter school card as a panacea, and incentivise the implementation of an “at-will, no-contract, highly accountable” workforce with hundreds of millions of dollars of “foundation” dollars and grant money to study “innovative” ways of managing teachers, schools, testing and curriculum.

    Reformers have achieved their goal of putting the blame solely on the backs of the “grunts” fighting the educational war (i.e. teachers) while simultaneously giving the generals (administration/politicians) a free pass. Reformers would have us ignore the fundamental fact that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. The impact of one teacher over the mind, body and soul of another is ultimately limited by the student’s willingness to learn and perform. Students should be given every effort to learn and no-one should give up on a student are truisms that should be respected, but when we fail to recognize that, ultimately, no-one can force everyone (or anyone) to learn something on a set timeline when that particular individual doesn’t possess the internal motivation. Not to mention the very real fact that students are not immune to the vicissitudes of our own genes and our own upbringing. Special education exists for a reason. Gifted and talented exists for a reason. Not all of us, possess equal talents and equal capacities to learn at the same rate or to the same level. We recognize this for ourselves and no-one cries out that we are hurting adults. But, somehow, before we reach the age of 18, all of us are magically equal in talent, capacity, intelligence, potential, motivation and our success is utterly dependent upon our teachers. But once we are 19 years old, nobody owes me anything, if I don’t have a job it’s my fault, obviously some people are just lazy, stupid and dumb. They want everyone to take care of them and they are self-motivated and we don’t need welfare to enable their lazy behavior, etc, etc, etc.

    Do we blame our soldiers for losing a battle? No, history finds generals responsible for battlefield loses. Do we blame our police officers for crime? No, we blame the criminal and societal factors that contribute to crime. Do we blame our doctor for our illness? No, we blame our habits, bad luck, genetics, germs and viruses. Do we blame teacher’s unions for protecting bad teachers with jobs for life with no control over curriculum because Johnny can’t read? Yes, of course. Granted, nothing is always so cut and dry, but at the very least, if we all own the “blame” for educational problems, then we all own the solution. And these solutions must deal with realistic goals, responsibilities and timelines that take into account real human nature and needs and not some fictional world were every child is a proficient reader by the time they leave third grade, for example.

    So, if we take the subject of this article “how do highly effective nations teach their students” a casual observer would think that all we have to do is walk down to city hall and state our claim, provide our evidence and our well meaning, reasonable leaders will see the light and change the slow motion train wreck they have contributed to in the first place. Sadly, even the best teachers among us, with the best data, making the best arguments can’t make a politician and reformer change their mind as long as their bread and butter is dependent upon believing the very opposite of what highly effective nations actually do to educate their highly educated workforce. “You mean I really can’t make a politician drink the water?” Nope, but the Kool-aid goes down easy.

  • Kendra

    There are 4 teachers in my grade level. Two colleagues and I often meet to work on weekends, collaborate on lesson plan development and assessments weekly after school, and constantly reflect to improve. Our other colleague (a teacher for 20 years) is conveniently busy during planning sessions, walks in on Monday morning, asks what we are doing that week, and tells us to email her our lessons. Because she is not involved in the planning, she is not familiar with the lessons and her students end up scratching their heads. I hate the truth that there are teachers among us who are responsible for their students’ failures.

  • Jack

    Problems of education.
    1. Apathy. The students do not care and why should they. The students have been taught over the years that they will be given grades and despite the warnings and threats that they will be promoted (Social Promotion). The administration is apathetic. I cannot say in the two years that I have taught in Mississippi that I have had an experience with an administrator that wanted to his/her job. All they want is to see you teach rigor and have rigorous test but not have failing students. Also, they expect you to have discipline in the classroom but are told don’t waste your time calling parents. Yet, do not bother the administration with too many discipline problems.
    2. Lack of discipline. The school system must put up a front to make themselves look good. Since it is mandated that schools report the amount of suspensions, violence and other events schools now attempt to hide the numbers. I just witnessed this morning the waste of money. The school received a gigantic trophy for having less fights than the other middle school. Notice I did not say zero fights but just less fights. The school had over 25 fights that I am aware of this year. So, we were rewarded not for having so few fights but less than the other school. I have witnessed a student threaten a consultant brought in by the school and have no consequence other than a phone call home. At the beginning of the school year the teachers had to waste time in a meeting to review the school rules including dress code. I call it a waste of time due to the fact that when I tried to enforce the dress code I was told that we were going to ignore certain dress code violations. The dress code has continued to deteriorate all year long.
    3. Grades not Learning is of Vital Importance — There is an unwritten policy that no student may receive a grade below a 60 his/her report card. If the student did very little and demonstrated no mastery it did not matter. It was required of the teacher to adjust the grade to a 60. Then we have to waste time in meetings with high level administration about how we are going raise the failing state test scores. The administration has not been able to equate that if we hand out a grade of 60 that the students are not learning the consequences, thus when it is time to take the state test these student are not required to take the test seriously. It doesn’t have any real effect on them until they reach the 12th grade, that is if they do not drop out before then and 38 percent do drop out. Thus, by the time they are required to take the test seriously the student is so far behind that they do not have the necessary ability in reading or math to be successful.
    4. Low standards. The state I work in requires on a 42 percent correct on the state test to be considered proficient. Yet, our district requires 70 to be considered passing a course. The proverbial stuff will hit the fan next year as the state transitions to Common Core Standards which will require a unified passing level which to my understanding will be closer to the top educational states (proficient = 58 percent). This will result in very few students on any grade level reaching proficient.
    5. No accountability. When I tried to enforce the rules I was reprimanded because when I attempted to hold the students accountable (after school detention to complete homework). I figured since I had to hand out 60’s then I might as well make the students do the work. The problem was the students would skip detention and I would send the students the next day to the office with an office referral which meant administration would have to do their job. They did not like this and I was no longer allowed to hold detentions. When I requested help from administration for students who would just sit in my class and refuse to do his/her work I was told to just let them fail so they would learn. Well, we were informed by administration that none of these students would be required to suffer the consequence that all students would be promoted no matter how little that they learned.
    So, those who are not in education may ponder why America the great has become America the average. Despite that we have more resources than so many other countries who are ranked higher in education than us. Also, I was reprimanded because a parent went to central administration due to her child having a zero entered in our computerized system for grades. The student failed to do his homework, thus I entered a zero. The principal came and wasted my time due to the fact that the student received a zero for doing zero work. Ask yourself how long will it take a teacher to realize that any extra work or effort is wasted if the students are simply going to promoted no matter what you as the teacher does. The educational system is broken and needs no more quick fixes, but needs to be dismantled are built from the ground up.

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