Teacher Evaluation & Ed-reform: We’re in third grade still…

Dear Kaitlin Pennington, Sara Mead, Victoria McDougald and David Griffith,

Recently, two reports were published from your respective organizations regarding teacher evaluation. I had the opportunity to them and would like to augment your discussion with thoughts from the front lines.

I just finished a dissertation on teacher evaluation and in particular, rater efficacy. During the journey of researching the background of changes to the overall process, I was constantly struck by the gaps between research, policy, and practice; not to mention the utter lack of voice from practitioners (teachers and admin.).

In my opinion, we have a professional problem in that “teacher evaluation” as a construct is thought of as very broad in the policy and research world and very narrow in the practitioner world. In the reports you put out, the construct is treated as a total development system that provides feedback (interesting how you treat feedback, btw, very different that what’s developing in schools nationally) and growth with the underlying assumption that VAMs are going to be used effectively and that they provide a valid measure of teacher practice. In the “real world,” teacher evaluation is a piece of a larger equation but not the equation itself. I’ll probably post again with more to say to some of some of your specific claims.

For now, my major point is in response to your two “major risks”:

  1. Current evaluation systems built around a small number of observations and little feedback are not likely to contribute much to teacher professional growth. Instead, prioritizing professional development would require a completely revised teacher evaluation system created and implemented with a focus on professional development at the forefront.
  2. It’s not clear that we have the research or knowledge base on how to create evaluation systems that support professional development and lead to improved practice and student learning. In fact, research suggests that most current teacher professional development systems do little to improve teachers’ practice. And without teacher evaluations or other objective ways to assess teacher performance, it will be difficult to know if professional development affects the quality of instruction.

“Major risk #1”: Yes, it would require something different than what we have, something where the measurement of performance is about the total body of work, professional learning (different than professional development), and instructional coaching from other teacher leaders (nearly absent in your reports). Teachers would be much better served because of what we understand about motivation, engagement, and adult learning.

“Major risk #2”: We don’t. In fact, the research on teacher evaluation is all over the place and not what practitioners deserve. The way PD operates in most districts could be much better, but it’s still a better strategy than teacher evaluation; the potential is so much greater. And, districts are making major head-way in this area. We need systems that allow for rich conditions of improvement, learning, and new understanding. Evaluation is a part, for sure, but not the largest driver, especially for teachers at the upper-echelon of performance. The world is moving much too quickly to not empower teachers to learn “faster” and “smarter” than ever before. If evaluation is treated as the major lever that can improve learning, we’ll be right where we started four years ago. I’m not in favor of going backwards in some of the aspects that have been recently produced, especially for struggling teachers. We just need to be much more honest about how complex this will be, how much we still don’t understanding, and what the limitations are for any system we design.

RTTT brought many state changes to legislation surrounding teacher evaluation and dismissal. In 2012, the vast majority of teachers and administrators impacted by those changes went into effect. If our profession was in Kindergarten in 2012, with our understanding how to do this right, we’re in third grade now. We know much more, but barely enough to graduate to fourth grade…

Thanks for listening and engaging on this crucial topic.