Teacher Evaluation February 4, 2011Posted by Bruce Penniman in : Uncategorized , trackback
Calls for new approaches to teacher evaluation have become a steady drumbeat lately, especially with the requirement in the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program that evaluations be linked to student performance. The worst-case scenario, of course, is that “student performance” will be defined as “high-stakes test scores,” creating even more pressure than already exists to focus on test preparation activities instead of rich learning opportunities.
Few teachers would argue, I think, that their evaluations shouldn’t included some measures of their effectiveness in the classroom. The question is, what measures? State test scores are certainly too blunt an instrument, but much classroom work is too contextualized to serve as an “objective” measure. Any fair solution will certainly be nuanced.
Teachers’ unions have of course been cast as the enemy of reform in the public discussion of this issue, especially in the wake of the film Waiting for Superman. But some unions are tackling the issue head-on. The Massachusetts Teachers Association recently presented a comprehensive plan to reform teacher evaluation to the Massachusetts Board of Education. This plan is moves the issue in the right direction, I think.
My own experience with evaluation over almost four decades of teaching was that it wasn’t done very often – and then not very thoroughly. Most of the helpful feedback I received about my teaching came from my students and my colleagues – not from my administrators, though I respected many of them very much. The reality that needs to become a part of this debate is that most administrators have neither the time nor the expertise to effectively evaluate their entire faculties. I did a couple of one-year stints as an administrator myself and placed a high priority on teacher evaluation, but there simply weren’t enough hours in the day to make multiple classroom visits, do follow-up interviews, examine student work, write constructive feedback, identify professional development resources, etc. And I didn’t know enough about some subject areas to make more than general pedagogical recommendations.
If teacher evaluation is to become more effective, teachers are going to have to take charge of it. The kind of peer-to-peer learning that happens in the National Writing Project and other grassroots professional organizations can serve as a model for supportive peer evaluation systems at the local level.