Honest Evaluation to Support Good Teaching, Part 1

Source: Jenny Rankin, used with permission

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) reported U.S. students have dropped to merely average performance when compared to other countries’ students (USDE IES NCES, 2013). The release of these results at the end of 2013 triggered increased scrutiny of the manner in which teachers are evaluated. Many teachers are already working miracles in the classroom, so we need a way to spread the best teaching to classrooms nationwide.

As a start, consider three controversial realities:

  • teacher evaluation is inadequate when it relies only on test data,
  • administrators are often misleading when evaluating teachers,
  • and not all teachers feel respected as professionals when they are evaluated.

Rather than dispute or blame anyone for these problems, consider that most people involved have good intentions. These three realities are simply the products of other circumstances that comprise school system dynamics. Yet we cannot merely accept flawed evaluation methods, flawed evaluation feedback, and flawed treatment of teachers, because we cannot settle for school system aspects that ultimately hurt students and educators.

Fortunately, a single district-based reform has the potential to help remedy all three problems and improve student performance: remote classroom observations as a component of teacher evaluations.

Remote Classroom Observation

To trained eyes and ears, good teaching looks like good teaching. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (2012) reported a clear, positive relationship between video-based teacher observation scores and improved student outcomes. Other research supports this. An evaluation system that relies on multiple data sources (test scores, student surveys, graduation rates, site-based observation, PD data, etc.) but largely on remote observation-based data will provide a more accurate picture of teacher and school performance.

Remote Observation Basics

In short, remote classroom observations can function within a teacher evaluation system like this:

1: Train Observers.

Highly-effective teachers are trained as observers of teachers in the classroom. Their training is ongoing: not just in how to use the observation tool, but in research advancements informing good teaching. Ideally, observers are strangers to the teachers whose classrooms they observe. Varied models exist concerning whether the observers continue to work as teachers (e.g., part-time) or if they work in the observer role full-time (e.g., offering ongoing feedback and mentoring).

2: Frontload Teachers.

Ideally, teachers and administrators are involved in the district’s decision to implement remote observations, as well as in selecting and finalizing the district’s observation criteria and protocol. Student feedback is also recommended. All observation procedures and resources are then clearly communicated to teachers and posted online where any educator can access them. Thus teachers have advance access to the tool by which they will be evaluated, and administrators can watch sample videos and use a related scoring practice tool to improve their ability to give constructive feedback and support to teachers throughout the year.

Posted resources also include grade- and subject-specific instructional videos showing and explaining how each rubric score for each observation area might look in the classroom, so teachers can view videos at any time to help them reflect on their own teaching and help them illustrate concepts when discussing practice with colleagues. These videos can stem from recordings of master teachers in action.

3: Evaluate.

Teachers schedule videotaping to record their delivery of different lessons. These lessons have to meet grade and subject-based criteria (for example, an elementary teacher covers varied subjects, an Algebra teacher covers varied standards, etc.). Observers then view the videotapes and use the tested and perfected observation instrument to evaluate teachers in a variety of areas (e.g., instructional delivery, student engagement, behavioral management, supportive climate, etc., all of which impact student outcomes). Videotaping significantly decreases the cost of an observation system, allowing observers to watch teacher after teacher with no transportation down-time. Videotaping also allows multiple observers to view and score the same teachers with ease, allowing averaging of scores to render better reliability.

What’s Next?

In the Part 2 and Part 3 companions to this article, we will explore additional steps to providing teachers with honest feedback and support.

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