School & District Management Opinion

Assessing Innovation: A Case Study Approach to Teacher Evaluation Systems

By Beth Holland — November 11, 2015 6 min read
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In a 2013 Guardian article, Professor Sugata Mitra suggested that students should be allowed to use devices and the Internet in exams. Because students would be able to look up answers instantly, he argued that the tests would need to change to address content that could not be “Googled.” Since devices could check spelling, grammar, and computation, then it would also not make sense for exams to assess that type of content. However, because technology cannot help a student analyze a passage, synthesize information, create definitions, or explain a solution, then the exams would need to assess those higher order skills. If the tests change, then teachers would shift their practice to best prepare their students to succeed. According to Professor Mitra’s logic, change the test, change the teaching. At that moment, I began to consider education as a chicken-and-egg paradox.

This past week, I faced a similar paradox in an academic exercise. Having spent the term exploring the discipline of education through the lenses of history, sociology, anthropology, and economics, my assignment required me to examined a series of case studies focused on teacher quality and evaluation from those disciplinary perspectives. In reading those case studies, I had to consider the implications of using each discipline to inform the design of an ideal teacher evaluation system for an imaginary district.

At that moment, I returned to the chicken-and-egg. Teachers would adjust their practice based on the evaluation system; therefore, design one to mirror the desired practice. In workshops, teachers often explain that they want to innovate, to incorporate new technologies, and to try new approaches; however, they feel stifled by the requirements of their assessment and evaluation systems. In my imaginary district, I realized that if I evaluated my fictitious teachers based on how they chose to innovate, then they would have the freedom to experiment.

To begin, I read about the history of teacher evaluation systems from Marzano, Frontier, & Livingston (2011). According to this article, the Clinical Supervision Model of Morris Cogan requires teachers to be in a continuous state of learning and improvement. Goldhammer, a student of Cogan, elaborated on that work and claimed that the holistic practice of a teacher should be observed, as should the interactions between students and teachers. To do this, Goldhammer presents five phases of clinical supervision: Pre-Observation Conference, Classroom Observation, Analysis, Supervision Conference, and Analysis of Analysis. This structure offered a guide for how I might construct the evaluation process for my fictional teachers. Though it did not necessarily explain the criteria of that assessment, from this historical perspective, I started to design the architecture of my system.

From a sociological standpoint, I explored a case study about the Implementation of Transfer Incentives as a means to encourage high-performing teachers to shift to low-performing schools where they might have a greater impact on student achievement (Glazerman, Protik, Teh, Bruch, & Seftor, 2012). While this article did not indicate whether or not the financial incentives, or the transfers, directly improved student performance, it did indicate that these high performing teachers provided additional value to their colleagues. Within my fictional evaluation system, I would want to incorporate financial incentives and rewards for teachers who support their colleagues, establish Professional Learning Communities, as well as develop content and materials to share with the broader educational community.

Donaldson (2012) presented an anthropological perspective that highlighted key criteria for an effective evaluation system. First, teachers should be involved in the goal-setting process and have an opportunity to determine their own criteria for assessment. In my imaginary system, these goals would center around questions rather than statements:

  • Do teachers readily incorporate a variety of pedagogical strategies to reach their students, and identify the rationale behind their decisions?
  • Does the curriculum align to 3-4 Essential Questions (McTighe & Wiggins 2013) to provide coherence and incite inquiry throughout the year?
  • How do teachers incorporate elements of Universal Design for Learning as a tangible framework to ensure that they are best reaching all of their students?

Next, the systems described by Donaldson (2012) linked some components of teacher evaluation to student performance. I agree with that in theory but would want the performance measurement to focus on cognitive growth and the attainment of critical-thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills rather than the achievement of a specified benchmark. Additionally, student performance would be measured based on a portfolio review and self-assessment in addition to test scores.

My fictional system would also broaden the concept of teacher and student observation. The Clinical Observation Model relies heavily on administrators spending time in teacher classrooms. Donaldson (2012) highlighted that some teachers felt as though school leaders either did not spend enough time making observations and providing feedback or that they did not have the background knowledge to do so. To remedy this situation, my fictional system would include video reviews and feedback from expert teachers and colleagues in addition to in-person observations. Department, division, and grade-level leaders would also be required to provide feedback to their colleagues, and the videos would provide an opportunity for this type of informal review.

Finally, my system would require teachers to maintain a public portfolio to allow for transparency into the classroom as well as model critical media literacy and digital citizenship skills for students. These portfolios would ensure that teachers regularly reflect on their practice and ensure alignment with their instructional goals.

Quantitative research from economists Chetty, Friedman, and Rockoff (2011) indicated that teacher quality has a lasting impact on students’ lives in terms of their college choices, earning potential, and social well-being. While my evaluation system may seem intensive and requiring a lot of additional work by teachers, the potential increase in teacher quality and student performance within my imaginary district would be worth it.


Chetty, R., Friedman, J. N., & Rockoff, J. E. (2011). The long-term impacts of teachers: Teacher value-added and student outcomes in adulthood. (Working Paper No. 17699). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved from

Donaldson, M.L. (2012). Teachers’ perspectives on evaluation reform. Washington, D.C.: Center for American Progress. Retrieved from http://cdn.americanprogress.org/wp- content/uploads/2012/12/TeacherPerspectives.pdf

Glazerman, S., Protik, A., Teh, B., Bruch, J., Seftor, N., & Mathematica Policy Research. (2012). Moving high-performing teachers: Implementation of transfer incentives in seven districts. ( No. NCEE 2012-4051). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

Marzano, T. Frontier, & D. Livingston (Eds), Effective supervision, pp.12-28. Alexandria, VA: ASCD. Retrieved from Disciplinary Perspectives on Education 10 http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/110019/chapters/A-Brief-History-of- Supervision-and-Evaluation.aspx

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