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Teacher Evaluation: As Good as it Gets

By Nancy Flanagan — June 14, 2011 3 min read
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Honoring the profession does NOT mean it does not get challenged, only that such challenges occur in the appropriate moral tone, with the attached expectation that professionals are positively willing to submit themselves to their profession and its arbiters, when said arbiters are themselves education professionals.

Lianna Nix

My EdWeek colleague, Walt Gardner, has a great post up this week on teacher evaluation using a peer assistance and review model. Walt and I agree that a muscular approach to teacher evaluation could go a long way toward improving teaching practice.

Not because better evaluations would correctly identify and lop off a bigger percentage of under-performing teachers; that could be accomplished far more efficiently by raising the bar for admission, productive field experiences and careful induction. But--because teacher evaluations could be used as a system for ongoing professional learning. We almost never hear about providing teachers with a set of viable, high-level self-evaluation tools. We assume (wrongly) that teachers either can’t or won’t invest significant intellectual effort in examining their own efficacy. They must be “managed” into highly effective, professional behavior.

One exception: National Board Certification, where teachers voluntarily submit a detailed analysis of their work to carefully trained, anonymous peers. Why hasn’t board certification for teachers become the norm, as it has for accountants and pediatricians?

National Board Certification is built on credible, viable, detailed standards for accomplished practice--why aren’t those tacked to every teacher’s bulletin board? Why aren’t the free NBPTS standards and evaluation lenses routinely woven into, or adapted by, all district and statewide teacher preparation and assessment systems? (For a good example of what that might look like, take a look at Accomplished CA Teacher‘s teacher-designed professional evaluation model.)

Other advantages of a board-certification approach to evaluation:

• The requirement that teachers examine and document their work outside the classroom: professional collaboration, communicating effectively with families, updating their skills.

• The use of actual student work, so teachers can provide credible evidence that their teaching led to student learning over time.

• An evaluation of a teacher’s planning process: setting the right goals, designing different kinds of instruction to reach diverse students, creation of valid assessments tied to local curricula.

• An on-demand demonstration of the teacher’s content knowledge mastery, via examination.

• A panel of independent outside reviewers--no going easy on the basketball coach or letting personal biases color the evaluation.

What about the coin of the realm--standardized test scores? National Board candidates have always been free to present appropriate standardized data as part of the package of evidence that students have learned from their teaching. But--and this is important--they are required to connect the numbers to verification that it’s their instruction that is correlated to the learning, not what the kids bring to the table, or the efforts of skilled colleagues. That does two things: builds assessment literacy in practitioners, and uses standardized data in productive, non-punitive ways.

So, again: Why isn’t this model the norm? A model based on National Board Certification would be--right now--as good as teacher evaluation gets.

Ideas to ponder:

Putting the responsibility for demonstrating that their practice is effective on teachers turns our hierarchy upside down. It positions teachers as capable, autonomous and responsible. In other words, fully professional. A full-range evaluation of teacher skills reinforces the belief that all of those things--and not just delivering tested content--are important and desirable.

Recently, an increasing number of jobs that should be teacher work have been shunted to “experts.” Setting content standards, creating aligned assessments and curriculum have been taken out the teacher bailiwick and given to vendors and policy-makers. There’s a lot of money to be made on teacher evaluation systems.

National Board Certification is currently regarded as an expensive, boutique process to identify the “best” teachers. But it wasn’t designed that way. It was created to benchmark the requisite skills, knowledge and characteristics of good teaching, and transform the profession by putting increasing numbers of teachers through a journey of examining their own work.

Ask yourself: what would happen if all teachers were compelled to regularly and thoroughly demonstrate that their practice met a yardstick of efficacy?

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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