On May 14, 10 teachers, who participated in the VIVA Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Idea Exchange, traveled to Washington, DC, for intensive, back-to-back sessions with U.S. Dept. of Education (ED) staff. The meetings, which were requested by ED, were a follow up to the Idea Exchange recommendations, released by VIVA and the Gates Foundation in February. In particular, ED wanted to focus on teacher evaluation and technology.
About a dozen ED staff, including Senior Program Advisor for Teacher Quality Initiatives Brad Jupp, attended the first session on teacher evaluation. They zeroed in on the four solutions under the first recommendation: “Teacher performance should have a higher weighting than students’ standardized test scores in all evaluation circumstances. Teacher evaluations have to focus on classroom activities, and we need to build the capacity necessary to use multiple measures of teachers’ work.” The proposed solutions are:
- As stated in the MET report, “Nine Principles for Using Measures of Effective Teaching,” a balanced approach would be to allocate between 33 percent to 50 percent of the weight to student achievement. We see 50 percent as an extraordinarily high weight for student achievement tests and the norm for that measure should be closer to 33 percent. This is especially true in elementary school. We as a nation need to invest more in creating student standardized assessments that are reliable across a range of circumstances.
- Allow for the teacher’s immediate supervisor, specifically the school principal, to have a greater weight in the overall rating since they are working more consistently and in direct contact with the teachers in the classroom. As valuable as Peer Mentors are, their evaluation should have much less weight on the overall rating since they do not have direct contact with the teacher, and may not be familiar with the school or classroom dynamic. Let their evaluation be for learning and reflection only.
- With the ability to record and review classroom practice, teachers and school principals have more and more accurate information to know students and know the level of true engagement of students. As long as recording of actual classroom practice is available, principals and instructional leaders can reliably review teaching performance and use that information in professional evaluations.
- Self evaluation is another important component of any effective teacher evaluation system. In our experience in MET, the opportunity to reflect on our own practice was invaluable.
Asked which of the four proposed solutions they thought should be implemented immediately, the teachers unanimously said number 3, videotaping.
The teachers shared some of the challenges schools are facing as they adopt teacher evaluation requirements spelled out by Race to the Top. For example, they noted that a principal now has more evaluations to conduct, requiring more observation, which is good in theory. However, in reality, there is not enough time to do them thoroughly.
The teachers suggested ED could better support the process by shining a light on places where evaluation is working well. “What’s important to remember is you have a group of people across the country who agree this is an effective tool,” one of the teachers explained. “The problem is implementation. People have rushed to do this, and it’s bred a lot of mistrust and misunderstanding. People need to see this evaluation tool in action.”
After a break to meet Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the VIVA Teachers sat down with members of the department’s technology team, led by Richard Culatta, acting director of the Office of Educational Technology.
With the understanding that a lack of infrastructure is an issue, ED wanted to know what it could do to encourage teachers to use more technology. New York City teacher Kwesi Ndzibah said, “There are ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants.’ Many teachers are the latter, and we need to get more people to be the former.” There are social forces getting people to use Facebook and play Farmville. It is a very different kind of exposure to stand in front of your class and use an iPad in front of a class.”
The teachers also flagged the issue of acceptable use policies in school not keeping up with technology. The ED staff agreed this is their next frontier. The also describe the work currently underway to increase congressional funding for broadband capacity. They also introduced newfree.ed.gov, a Wikipedia-type site for teachers to search for a variety of digital learning content in one location, instead of having search multiple websites.