To be realistic vehicles of school improvement, teacher evaluation systems need to be revamped to utilize more clearly elucidated professional standards and include bona fide assessments of both classroom practice and student work, according to a new report by a group of distinguished teachers in California.
The group, known as Accomplished California Teachers, was formed in 2008 as a way to bring teachers’ knowledge and perspective to bear on pressing education policy issues. ACT is affiliated with National Board Resource Center at Stanford University, which is directed by Stanford education professor Linda Darling-Hammond, and receives funding from the Stuart Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation. (A number of ACT members are also members of the Teacher Leaders Network, which publishes a weekly article on Teacher.)
ACT’s debut report focuses largely on the issue of teacher evaluation in California, but it comes at a time when education leaders and policymakers nationwide are looking to overhaul their teacher evaluation systems to gather more concrete information from evaluations and tie them more closely to teacher advancement and compensation.
ACT members certainly agree that, at least in their state, current evaluation processes are badly in need of an upgrade. The current system in California, the report states, is one “that teachers do not trust, that rarely offers clear directions for improving practice, and that often charges school leaders without preparation or resources.” Inconsistently implemented and often perfunctorily carried out, evaluation is seen by most teachers in the state less as a route to “developing mastery of professional standards” than as “a routine designed to ensure that an administrator is performing his job.”
By contrast, the report argues, the keys to a truly effective evaluation system are that “it substantiates that the quality of a teacher’s work meets the needs of her students” and that “it helps a teacher understand what she needs to do to improve.”
With those factors in mind, ACT offers a number of detailed prescriptions for creating a new evaluation system. These include:
• orienting evaluations around established and clearly described professional standards “to create a continuum of expectations from preservice teaching to accomplished practice”;
• incorporating reliable, experience-level-appropriate performance assessments−including, for example, video analysis, lesson-plan documentation, and evidence of student learning−into the evaluation process.
• integrating into reviews analyses of a range student outcomes and “agreed-upon indicators” of student mastery, including not only standardized test scores but formative classroom assessments, demonstrations of content learning (through project-based results), and improved learning habits;
• putting evaluations in the hands of trained expert evaluators with content expertise rather than continuing to rely on harried administrators; and
• connecting evaluations to applicable professional development opportunities.
ACT also argues that, after the model of its report, teachers should be “full partners” in the design of any new evaluation model, emphasizing the importance of teachers’ trust and input to the ultimate success of the system.