Teaching Profession

Can Teacher Evaluations be Formative AND Summative?

By Stephen Sawchuk — December 14, 2009 1 min read

Here at Teacher Beat, we’ve written ad nauseum about the challenge of integrating test scores or achievement data into teacher evaluations. But there are some equally big challenges to improving evaluations of teachers that are based on in-classroom observations, as I write in this Education Week story. There are a number of very thoughtful comments on the story, so check those out, too.

This one, by Harsh8, caught my attention. In it, (s)he suggests that a tool used for formative purposes (such as teacher improvement) shouldn’t also be used for summative ones (such as tenure or dismissal.)

Reformers are frustrated by the ineffectiveness of 'evaluation' and 'professional development' processes because they are trying to do two distinctly different things with one instrument. They try to use the same system to improve teachers and to fire them. It's like using a garden spade to plant and harvest tomatoes. There should be two systems, two processes. One designed to improve teachers. The other designed to evaluate and re-hire or fire them. Instead, administrators, professors, and school systems keep combining the two processes, causing teachers, who should be focusing on professional growth, trembling [sic] in fear that they are going to be fired."

Yet there are counter-examples where performance-based standards are at the center of teaching and learning, and also carry an accountability component. (Take a Teacher Advancement Program school or the peer-assistance and -review programs, for instance.)

What do you think? Should there be two separate instruments for improvement and accountability, or can the same instrument serve both purposes?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.