TAP is a school-reform model oriented around teacher development. Originally founded by Milken Family Foundation and now operated by the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, the program includes components of performance pay, performance evaluation, and career advancement. Teachers in TAP schools have the opportunity to climb the ladder from full-time classroom “career teachers” to “master teachers” who observe and evaluate their peers and lead professional development.
In response to the recent national focus on measuring teacher performance, NIET recently released a report documenting TAP’s teacher evaluation system, which integrates elements of peer observation, value-added scores, and schoolwide achievement growth. The report is intended to provide guidance to school leaders and policymakers on evaluating educators in combination with improving their instructional practice.
We recently spoke to Kristan Van Hook, NIET’s senior vice president for public policy and development, about the report’s findings and implications.
What lessons can school administrators take away from this report?
Our report demonstrates that teacher evaluations can be fair and accurate and provide a path for improvement. Within that, there are three key areas we hope to highlight. One important message is the importance of having multiple measures of teacher effectiveness—both student outcome measures as well as teacher practice measures.
Another important point is that it’s essential to invest in quality control and monitoring to ensure that it’s accurate, fair, and reliable and that it truly does measure teacher effectiveness. It’s critical to link your evaluation system to strategies in teacher improvement, and all of this kind of ties back to that concept that if you want to accurately measure performance and create a system for improvement, both of those goals need to drive your design.
This is a significant change from the past where teacher evaluations were used primarily as a system for dismissal to where it needs to be, as a system of continued improvement. It’s important to align.
What is the benefit of teachers evaluating their peers through classroom observation and providing them feedback?
We think this is an essential part of the evaluation system for a number of reasons. Our goal is to build instructional expertise in the school building, and we do that by creating a structure for using peer observation to improve the skills of every teacher.
Another important reason is that if you’re going to conduct multiple evaluations for each teacher, it simply can’t be done by the principal alone, so teacher leaders who share the responsibilities with principals can help to conduct both evaluations and professional development. This also creates an opportunity for the most effective teachers to have the time, authority, and support to help other teachers develop.
People often talk about feedback, but they kind of just say “Well, feedback is important,” so in this report we try to explain what that high-quality feedback looks like. You have to train evaluators to provide quality feedback. It just really helps to build teacher support and buy-in because there’s a sense that we’re all in this together.
The TAP system also uses value-added scores and peer observation to measure teacher effectiveness. Does the observation score correlate with student growth and achievement?
TAP schools look at classroom observations four to six times per year, and unlike most teacher evaluations, these tend to correlate with student outcomes. If you score high on your classroom observation, you’re more likely to have students score high on your student growth measure.
This contrasts with most current systems. Most current systems say there’s no correlation. But by aligning these measures, we’re sending teachers a more consistent message on how they can help their students improve.
How can schools with limited resources find ways to implement on-site, ongoing professional development?
I guess I would question why most professional development experts are sent by services from outside the school. Are professional-development dollars being spent on things that will increase student achievement? Teachers in TAP schools find it incredibly valuable to implement professional-development strategies from experts located in their school on a daily basis.
The other advantage here is, again, a connection between professional development and the evaluation. You’re spending a lot of energy to evaluate teachers. It’s so much more powerful if you can integrate that with efforts to improve schools. It’s an extremely cost effective strategy to bring PD back into the school and to build that expertise in the school building.
How can school administrators integrate evaluation and professional development?
How can they not? The current system doesn’t integrate those two and it doesn’t make any sense. If you want to improve teacher effectiveness, you want that info and then you need to do something with that info.
It’s important to use the same description of good teaching practices in your evaluations that you use in professional development. You should ensure that your professional development has a rubric that’s detailed enough to show them what exactly they need to do to improve in each area. We find that this forms the basis for a shared conversation and a shared vision for the school of what good teaching looks like. You’d be really surprised how much time teachers spend on this. For years, teachers have been told that they’re all outstanding, so it takes serious work to make teachers understand that three on a scale of one to five represents good, solid teaching.
Teachers are very supportive of this system because what we helped them to develop is a path for growth for every teacher. This evaluation system doesn’t focus on the few who are doing poorly. This evaluation system is designed for all teachers. Even the best teachers have room for growth.
In light of your findings, what mistakes do schools often make in evaluating teachers?
Evaluations are infrequent; they rely on crude and unspecific instruments; they don’t incorporate student achievement growth; there are few or no quality controls; they fail to train or certify evaluators; provide almost no useful feedback for teachers; and yield vastly inflated performance ratings. I think it’s clear that there’s a lot of room for improvement.
The problem with the current system is that they don’t accurately measure performance, and they don’t provide useful feedback for growth. In both of those areas, there’s a lot of room for improvement and we’ve found through more than ten years of implementing this system in schools that we can create more effective systems, accurately measure performance, and provide useful feedback and support to help teachers improve performance over time.