In my capacity as a Classroom Fellow with the US Department of Education, I had the privilege of attending the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) National Conference at the National Harbor in Maryland last week.
Given the current debates about teacher evaluation, many educators had comments and questions about the challenges of assessing the effectiveness of teachers who may have students with learning needs that are not accurately assessed through standardized test scores.
As a current middle school special education department chair, I understand these concerns.
It was encouraging to see this topic raised in a conversation between CEC and Secretary Duncan. Yet, as I and many special education teachers know, this type of conversation is just the beginning.
First, the excerpt from the conversation:
CEC: I keep hearing lots of information about linking teacher pay to student performance on annual state tests. How will all special educators, some of whom teach students who take an alternate version of this test or use accommodations, be included and rewarded in this system? How will related service providers who work with students in very specialized ways, often for varying amounts of time, be included? What research-based practices are you recommending to use to evaluate a teacher's effectiveness other than student test scores? If principals are to be the ones to determine teacher effectiveness, how is the Department ensuring that they have the knowledge, skills, and evidenced-based tools in order to conduct high quality evaluations?
ARNE: Teachers are the most important part of a child's education. What teachers do every day in classrooms has a tremendous effect on how much children learn and the options they have in the future. Unfortunately, in many states the system we have for evaluating and supporting teachers is fundamentally broken. Teachers don't receive meaningful feedback, and their evaluations are not used to help them grow professionally or advance in their field. To treat teachers as the professionals that they are, I support states and districts moving away from current systems of teacher evaluation and compensation. Instead, I would like them to move towards a more meaningful system of supporting, recognizing, and rewarding teachers based on their effectiveness in the classroom.
A teacher's effectiveness in the classroom must be determined using multiple measures. These measures should include observations by trained evaluators who have knowledge about teaching, the subject matter, and the context. They could also include student and parental feedback and portfolios of student work. And the evaluations should include the academic growth their students make over the course of a year. Growth should be determined based on fair and objective assessments, but should not be based on the results of one test given a single day. States and districts should consider using results from district-developed assessments or portfolios of student work throughout the year graded against a consistent rubric.
Principals may be among those who evaluate teachers, but they needn't be the only ones - some systems are having veteran teachers with experience in the community and classroom assignment conduct observations. Either way, it is vital that principals be given the support and training to serve as strong instructional leaders who understand the needs of all their students and teachers. To support this, the Department is proposing to nearly triple funding for leadership preparation and to set-aside $50 million in state-level funds for states to invest in better support and training for principals in implementing evaluation systems and using the results from them to inform sound instructional decisions.
Systems will have to recognize, of course, that a simple 25 -1 relationship of students to teachers isn't the reality for many students and teachers. Sometimes this may mean giving multiple teachers recognition for the achievement gains of a student they both taught. Other times, it may mean using group-based measures for a team of teachers who work with overlapping groups of students. So states and districts should work with their teachers to determine which arrangements best reflect the reality of how teaching and learning happens in their schools. We recognize the prevalence and effectiveness of team teaching; for example, a regular education teacher and a special educator working together in the same classroom. Teacher evaluations have to support and reward teachers working in team teaching or other cooperative models.
Many educators are encouraged by this direction for using multiple measures, but for those of us who work in schools and classrooms, we know that the challenges and complexity of establishing such a system would be in the details of design, implementation, support, and scale.
Fortunately, we are not starting from scratch.
What could assessment using multiple measures look like?
We have a defined system with the foundation, structure, and guidelines for using multiple measures to assess teacher effectiveness. We have an established system that allows teachers to demonstrate their expertise and progress with students using a variety of measures such as observations, student work, informal and formal assessments, videos of classroom teaching, and parent feedback. This system requires teachers to document their professional relationships with other educators and specialists who work with the same students.
This comprehensive portfolio assessment illustrates teacher effectiveness in more meaningful and relevant ways than what can be reflected in simple standardized test scores.
This system is the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) certification process, where teachers use multiple measures to show their effectiveness and work with students, families, and other educators.
The first group of National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) completed their portfolio assessment of multiple measures in 1995. Thousands of teachers complete this process each year.
We have over 16 years of data to learn from this process of what it takes to support a system of using multiple measures to assess teachers.
I’m not advocating that all teachers undergo the NBPTS process as a system of evaluation. But, when it comes to this debate of using multiple measures, we already know a lot about what it would take to implement such a system, or something similar.
We can learn what has worked well, what may need improvement, and most importantly, better understand the time, expertise, and resources needed to promote and maintain such a system, and what policies we need in place at the district, state, and national level if we are serious about this conversation.
Are we ready to move forward to work out the details for using multiple measures for teacher evaluation?
The opinions expressed in Leading From the Classroom 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.