The latest wave of education reform in America to tie teacher evaluations to annual standardized testing has hit a legal roadblock in New York state and may have legal implications across America. Judge Roger McDonough of the State Supreme Court in Albany, N.Y., determined that rating teachers based on their students’ growth scores on state exams is both “arbitrary” and “capricious.”
Learning is about understanding, and understanding offers clear insights into a child’s comprehension and ability to apply curriculum. Also, there is a much more reliable and transparent way to gauge teachers’ effectiveness based on their ability to develop understanding in students.
To evaluate a teacher’s effectiveness, supervisors—principals, assistant principals, and department chairs—should be using regular announced and unannounced classroom observations that look for evidence of student understanding, using a transparent clinical observation model.
The clinical observation model includes a pre-conference, the classroom observation, and a post-conference. The pre-conference questions should be public to the entire school community—supervisors, teachers, and parents—and include:
- What is the instructional goal of the lesson?
- What would be the evidence that you have attained your goal?
- What do you want me to see or look for?
- How will you assess for student understanding?
It is essential that the entire school community is clear on the evaluation process and how students can demonstrate the various aspects of understanding. As Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins highlight in their professional-development workbook Understanding by Design (ASCD, 1999), the six facets of understanding are: explanation, interpretation, application, perspective, empathy, and self-knowledge.
During the middle of a lesson, teachers should conduct performance assessments so that students can demonstrate their understanding. This will afford the teacher the opportunity to make adjustments to instruction as the lesson progresses. At the end of the lesson, students should be able to walk out of the class having demonstrated understanding of the instructional goals.
The post-conference should take the form of an inquiry that probes into the evidence collected and the outcomes presented. The supervisor should provide the teacher with evidence and pertinent notes prior to the post-conference. During this conference, the role of the supervisor is to ask probing and clarifying questions, listen carefully to the teacher’s response, and then go deeper by asking follow-up questions based on the responses.
This conference should take the teacher through a self-reflective process and the supervisor through a deeper understanding of teaching and learning in his or her school or district. The successful outcome to the post-conference should provide the teacher with the opportunity to answer the following question thoughtfully: If you were able to teach this lesson again to get better or deeper understanding, what would you do differently?
This model’s focus is on student understanding and their ability to demonstrate that understanding. If a teacher, supervisor, and school community can navigate this process, students have greater ease with learning, test scores rise, and the folly of standardized test scores in teacher evaluations vanish forever.
Anael Alston is the superintendent of schools of the Hamilton Central School District. He is a former New York State Principal of the Year and winner of the prestigious Met-Life NASSP Breakthrough School Award.
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