Perhaps no profession is as endlessly fascinated with evaluation as teaching. The concepts of transparency and accountability are woven into the very fabric of our work as educators in a way that is unique among professions. On the one hand this is laudable.
On the other hand it leads to building of elaborate evaluation systems, systems that are costly, time consuming, and which are frequently criticized for efficacy. Too often these systems became exercises in bureaucratic hoop jumping, disconnected from improvements in actual practice.
The trend during the Race to the Top/NCLB “flexibility” has been for states and localities to go down a rabbit hole of “multiple measures”, where a variety of components are added together, producing a number by which teachers can supposedly be compared, and which becomes the basis for various high stakes employment decisions, including hiring, firing, promotion, tenure and compensation.
Is this whole less than the sum of the parts?
In many places student test scores (including the dreaded value added or VAM approach) have become a large (or even largest) component of the evaluation score. This has created (at least) two problems:
1) The majority of teachers teach in subjects without standardized tests. How do you capture a test score component for these folks?
2) The use and misuse of student testing has spiraled out of control. Parents are starting to wake up to fact that their children are being tested not diagnostically and for their own benefit, but for the purpose of sorting and firing their teachers.
Because of the history and culture of our profession, we must be practical: teacher evaluation is not going away. So how can we build an evaluation model that is time and cost effective, objective, and connects to improvements in professional practice?
Multiple data points.
In this approach, you put something at the center of the system. In many cases this would be traditional administrator observation, but it could easily be a Tripod style student survey, or a National Board portfolio, for example. Then you admit other data into the conversation for confirmation.
We know that no one data point is a silver bullet that provides a complete, valid and reliable picture of professional practice. Professional practice is a complex and sophisticated enterprise that must be viewed through a variety of lenses. Observations, student achievement, surveys, artifacts, portfolios, etc, talk to each other in this scenario and become mutually reinforcing.
There is one other key piece – you need a research-based rubric, which everyone accepts and understands, to provide a basis for professional conversation, and a roadmap for improving practice. In our district we recently agreed upon using Danielson’s Framework.
It is important to understand that a rubric is not in and of itself an evaluation system. Rather, it provides the language to talk about practice, and you build the evaluation system around that language.
Within the rubric, “anchor components” are individual components in each of the four domains that drive the other components of that domain. These anchor components are different for new and experienced teachers. Examination of practice within the anchor component provides reasonable assurance that things are OK in the other components of that domain.
This simple idea has two important implications: first, it provides a way to differentiate evaluation for the career stage of the educator by looking first at key areas of practice. Second, it streamlines the process – by focusing an administrator’s attention, it reduces the data that needs to be looked at. One need only look at the full spectrum of components in a domain if an issue is detected in the anchor component.
By using multiple data points, a research-based rubric and anchor components, it is possible to create teacher evaluation which is streamlined, accurate, and useful for planning professional growth. If you can take some of the stress out the experience, educators will naturally embrace a good rubric and internalize it. Why? Because teachers spend a huge amount of time with their students, and if they are more successful in this endeavor their lives will be better in very concrete ways. When educators take ownership of the profession, it reduces the need for elaborate teacher evaluation systems because the work is embedded in practice. A virtuous cycle ensues.
Then the trick is how to connect this with professional development – but that’s subject for another blog!
What improvements in teacher evaluation would help you in your work?