Teaching Profession

Insiders Debate Teacher-Evaluation Approaches

By Liana Loewus — November 15, 2010 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Panelists at a K-12 education forum held in Washington last week sparred over how teachers’ performance should be evaluated, presenting a microcosm of what has become a heated national debate.

The forum, hosted by the Atlantic on November 10, was organized around the general principle of strengthening schools and featured a kick-off discussion on “showcasing effective teaching.”

Kevin Huffman, spokesperson for Teach for America, opened that discussion by explaining how his organization scrutinizes its best teachers—as determined by diverse measures of student achievement—to identify patterns in effective classrooms. In looking at the 28,000 teachers who have gone through the program, TFA has uncovered two factors that distinguish great teachers from the rest, Huffman explained. The most effective teachers 1) set big goals, and 2) invest students’ parents and family in those goals. In these teachers’ classes, students can verbalize what they’re working toward, and the message permeates their home lives as well.

Because TFA, a program in which high-achieving recent college graduates commit two years to teaching in under-resourced schools, is not using the data to make high-stakes decisions on issues such as tenure, the group is in a unique position to “take on things that are tougher than the district can take on.” “We’re in the business of studying the efficacy of teachers, simply in the context of how we can make teachers better,” Huffman said.

TFA also studies predictors of efficacy in order to refine its screening process. Huffman said the majority of attributes that predict classroom effectiveness are “clustered around the concept of leadership.” Perseverance ranks toward the top of the critical predictors. Notably, past experience working with kids does not emerge as a predictive characteristic, he said.

Value Judgments

The teacher evaluation rubric now used by the District of Columbia Public Schools known as IMPACT, bears similarities to the evaluations used by TFA, said Jason Kamras, a former National Teacher of the Year. Kamras, now a special assistant in the D.C. school district who helped design IMPACT, contended that evaluations in the past have been a “perfunctory exercise that’s not particularly meaningful,” with 95 percent of teachers receiving “satisfactory” or higher ratings. The new system, which uses a combination of value-added scores and observations to rate teachers, has stirred up controversy in the District. Many teachers who received positive ratings in previous years prior have scored as ineffective under IMPACT.

The discussion’s moderator, Atlantic contributor Amanda Ripley, prodded panelists on how to overcome suspicions about these evaluations from teachers who see them as “punitive.”

But Daniel Koretz, professor of education at Harvard University, contended that the suspicions about evaluations using value-added scores are warranted. “We can’t avoid the need for better accountability,” he said, but we “should be nervous about the emphasis on tests.” Standardized tests fail to account for much of what comprises good teaching, Koretz said, and can identify the wrong teachers as effective. And state test scores do not tend to correlate to national assessments, which he said is an indication they can be unreliable.

This is particularly a problem in New York State, he said, where the media has picked up on huge disparities between state and national scores.

“Are you contending that teachers who have the highest value-added scores on NY state tests are not substantially different than the teachers getting the lowest scores?” Kamras shot back.

“In some cases,” said Koretz. “Some teachers who are rated poorly are, in fact, really good.”

Kamras argued that he notices a “palpable difference between classes” of teachers with the highest and lowest test scores. He conceded that “value added is not perfect. There are reasons to be cautious.” That’s why, he said, test scores are only one piece of the evaluation equation for IMPACT.

Publicizing Scores

When asked whether teachers’ value-added scores should be made public, in reference to the wrangling between unions and districts in New York and L.A., panelists had mixed reaction. As a former teacher and current team leader for teachers, having the information out in the open seems like it would be “quasi-disastrous,” said Huffman. “But as a parent of DCPS kids,” he asserted, “I want to know.”

As it is, school policies can confuse parents about which classrooms are the most effective, said Kamras. Schools are required to send out letters to parents whose child has a teacher that is not considered “highly qualified” by the legal definition. But that has nothing to do with whether or not a teacher is highly effective, Kamras said. The release of value-added data would necessitate clear communication about what the scores signify.

Kamras, who also has children in the District of Columbia public schools, also argued that parents who want to know which teachers are “good” and “bad” have methods of finding out already—usually by asking around or visiting the school. Teacher performance, in other words, is not a big secret, Kamras suggested.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Teachers’ Careers Go Through Phases. They Need Support in Each
Teachers experience a dip in job satisfaction a few years into their careers.
5 min read
Vector illustration of a female teacher at her desk with her head in her hands. There are papers, stacked notebooks, and a pen on the desk and a very light photo of a blurred school hallway with bustling students walking by in the background.
iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession Download Downloadable: 5 Ways Principals Can Help With Teacher Burnout
This downloadable gives school leaders and teachers various ways to spot and treat teacher burnout.
1 min read
Silhouette of a woman with an icon of battery with low charge and icons such as a scribble line, dollar sign and lightning bolt floating around the blue background.
Canva
Teaching Profession Massages, Mammograms, and Dental Care: How One School Saves Teachers' Time
This Atlanta school offers unique onsite benefits to teachers to help them reduce stress.
3 min read
Employees learn more about health and wellness options during a mini benefits fair put on by The Lovett School in Atlanta on May 8, 2024.
Employees at the Lovett School in Atlanta meet with health benefits representatives during a mini benefits fair on May 8, 2024.
Erin Sintos for Education Week
Teaching Profession Opinion How Two Teachers Helped Me Weave a Dream
A journalist and debut book author dedicates her novel to two of her high school English teachers.
Anne Shaw Heinrich
3 min read
Image of nurturing the craft of writing.
Francis Sheehan for Education Week with N. Kurbatova / iStock / Getty