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Schools' Methods of Evaluating Teachers Assailed in Rand Study

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Few school systems use methods of evaluating teachers that would offer a fair and reliable basis for awarding them merit pay or placing them on a career ladder, according to a study by the Rand Corporation.

"Teacher evaluation presently is an underconceptualized and underdeveloped activity," write Arthur E. Wise, the principal author of the report of the research, and three co-authors. "Most school systems will have to develop [improved] teacher-evaluation systems before they can introduce innovative personnel practices."

Merit pay and career-ladder plans have become popular in recent months as policymakers look for ways of attracting and retaining better public-school teachers. The U.S. Education Department reports that 30 states have enacted or are considering such plans.

32-System Survey

Titled "Teacher Evaluation: A Study of Effective Practices," the report is based on a survey of 32 school systems noted for their effective evaluation systems, and on in-depth studies of the methods of evaluation used in four school systems--Salt Lake City, Utah; Lake Washington, Wash.; Toledo, Ohio; and Greenwich, Conn.

Most of those interviewed by the researchers agreed that school principals too often "lacked sufficient resolve and competence to evaluate teachers accurately."

The researchers also found "resistance or apathy" on the part of many teachers toward evaluations, a "lack of uniformity and consistency" of evaluation within school systems, and inadequate training for evaluators.

"Teacher evaluation is not a trivial undertaking," said Mr. Wise in releasing the report. "Done properly, it requires substantial resources and a great deal of attention. Most school districts have a perfunctory system of evaluation."

Time and Resources

In each of the four school systems with "exemplary" evaluation pro3grams, the authors wrote, sufficient time and resources were committed to teacher evaluation, teachers worked with administrators in designing the evaluation plan, methods were set up for checking the accuracy of evaluators' reports, and the evaluation plan was tailored to a specific goal, such as aiding new teachers or removing incompetent veterans.

"With regard to commitment," wrote the researchers, "all four case-study districts recognize that the key obstacle to successful evaluation is time--or, more precisely, the lack of it--for observing, conferring with, and especially assisting teachers who most need intensive help. These districts create time for evaluation."

The study was funded by the National Institute of Education.

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