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Just a Feedback Tool?

Improving the State of Teacher Evaluation

The National Council of Teaching Quality recently released their State of the State report on Teacher Feedback.

A wonderful fictional read. The report builds on a failed narrative that teacher evaluation needs to be about sorting, ranking, and dismissal. In fact the report opens by noting:

There is a troubling pattern emerging across states with a track record of implementing new performance-based teacher evaluation systems. The vast majority of teachers — almost all — are identified as effective or highly effective.

Why is this hard to believe…that a majority of teachers would be effective? This idea that we must have a witch hunt to “weed” out ineffective teachers makes much of the effort in teacher evaluation suspect.

Could you imagine saying the same thing about doctors or pilots? When you strap into a plane and make sure your tray is in the upright position don’t you assume the majority of pilots are effective? Is the same not true for surgeons taking a scalpel to your skin?

Teachers are no different. The expectation should be the majority are effective or highly effective.

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A New Vision

We need to view evaluation not as punishing teachers but as a method for improving their performance. Instead of talent management systems what if we created systems for holistic teacher development? Let’s no longer do the minimum of what is required. We need to do what is right.

Being just a feedback tool is no small goal. It is the goal. We know feedback works. In 1999 John Hattie published a meta-analysis on learning. Feedback had one of the largest effects on improving learning. Teacher improvement is no different.

Hattie also identified what type of feedback improves learning. We can extrapolate these findings to improving teachers. Feedback that had the lowest effect is the type of feedback the NCTQ wants evaluations built upon: punishments and rewards.

The largest growth in the studies Hattie examined came from reinforcement. Teachers will need information AND motivation attached to specific practices if they want to improve. They need corrective feedback that connects to student learning. Teachers need remediation and feedback when patterns of perfomance indicate needed area of improvement.

As a nation we should invest in our teachers not undermine educators through bad policy.

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The Time is Now

The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (informally known as NCLB and now ESSA, Every Student Succeed Acts) returns autonomy to the states in terms of teacher evaluation. We can not repeat the mistakes that Obama and Duncan dished out with NCLB waivers. We can not build the future that National Council of Teaching Quality wants.

The models of teacher evaluation that emerged from the NCLB waivers had the wrong focus (Flynn, 2014):

  • Inspection- The evaluation systems developed in the NCLB waivers treated educators like a spoiled ham left in the refrigerator section. The goal of feedback was to throw out the spoiled goods. This naturally created animosity between teachers and evaluation. Educators are partners not targets.
  • Focus on Accuracy- A cohort of evaluators were trained to script. They tried to capture all observed evidence in order to ensure calibration. They forgot to look for teaching and learning. So much of what happens in a classroom is not a script.
  • External Assessment-We tried to connect teacher evaluation to student scores. This is a mistake. Teacher feedback should be driven by observation, not using tests in ways they were never intended.
  • Individual Focus- The old regime looked at teacher evaluation as a singular event. There was no systemic investigation of patterns. This pitted teacher against teacher.

What would a new evaluation system look like?

Feedback for Growth- Instead of “gotcha” teacher evaluation should focus on growth. It cost a ton of money to hire and retain teachers. Districts should protect their investment.

Focus on Feedback- Any tool should emphasize feedback before ratings. If districts want scores to rise than they need to provide actionable feedback to teachers connected to student learning.

Building District Capacity- I have observed close to 200 teachers in the last two years. The districts that succeed invest in training evaluators to serve as coaches and not simply judges. It takes effort and working together.

Collaborative Focus- Teacher evaluation is a system wide work. The districts that build the best system look at the entire picture instead of individual teachers. Through the training of evaluators districts find common patterns in learning such as a lack of academic vocabulary.

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What does a new teacher evaluation system need?

Clearly a shift in mindset and instructional capacity are required. Yet we do need tools that provide affordances for effective feedback. We need the ability to look across a district to find patterns of performances.

We need talent management systems that work as a tool for holistic teacher growth.

Tools for teacher evaluation need to be customizable. The current set of available tools such as Bloomboard are provided to districts for “free.” Companies try to make their revenue by pushing professional development products.

This leads to rigid tools that are not the focus of the major players. Small and medium size districts can languish waiting for technical support to change just one form.

We need a tool that any district can customize.

Tools for teacher evaluation need calibration. In the hunt for Race to the Top dollars or NCLB waivers states and districts created system that did not allow for the training of evaluators. No calibration was built in beyond simple video training.

Video based calibration allow us to train teachers to identify evidence of student learning. Yet true calibration takes so much more. Evaluators need to be evaluated.

We need a tool that focuses on both evaluator and teacher capacity.

Tools for teacher evaluation need flexibility. Current tools do not allow many remote and rural districts to succeed. Often these schools are scattered over vast distances. Student teacher supervisors in Alaska for example need a plane ride to observe teachers.

We need a tool that provides flexibility through video based observation.

Tools for teacher evaluation need to be systematic. Teacher evaluation needed to be fixed. For too long teachers were not observed. Yet the recent policies lead to broken tools.

Teacher evaluation systems were designed to do what was required. They were built to blame teachers for low test scores. They were created for the wrong motivation.

We need a tool that focuses on systematic reform by growing teachers.

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