Teaching Profession Opinion

Follow-Up: My Second Wish for Teacher Evaluation

By Ryan Niman — December 20, 2011 2 min read
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Ryan Niman

I know that I have grandiose hopes and dreams with my first wish. But I am not content to stop there, as I have a second wish:

I wish for an evaluation system that is based on research.

Why? Two reasons:

First, everyone knows that trends in education are, well, trendy. New movements telling us how we should teach come along each year. In my eight years I’ve seen Understanding by Design, curriculum mapping, and CFGs come and go as areas of focus in my school or district. I’ve seen a district-wide evaluation system sputter and fade when one coordinator left the district. But perhaps worst of all is the weariness that I’ve seen from other teachers as a result of all these changes.

Whenever something new is introduced, teachers start down the path I was just on. “I remember when we had to...”, “That sounds a lot like...”, and “Do you remember so-and-so who wanted us to...” become frequent sentence starters. It doesn’t tend to matter whether the idea came from a fellow teacher or was dictated from above; 20 to 30 minutes later everyone is a skeptic and many have dug in their heels. None of it is based on data regarding actual student learning. Instead, the only data anyone has to work on is how long the trend lasted and how painful it was to go through.

The solution? An evaluation system that identifies whether teachers are putting their effort into skills and practices that are proven to result in improved student learning. Because let’s face it: Most of us know that we’re effective teachers, but we are constantly plagued by the fear that there’s a better, faster way to get the same outcome.

Luckily, states have started to make progress in this regard. I can only speak for Washington where Senate Bill 6696 mandated an improved evaluation system be in place by the 2013-14 school year. Key to this system is that every district in the state must adopt a research-based instructional framework that will be linked to the evaluation system. Through a pilot project, three frameworks were chosen. Each district in the state is now choosing one of these frameworks:

• The Center for Educational Leadership’s 5 Dimensions of Teaching and Learning

• Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching

• Robert Marzano’s The Art and Science of Teaching and Effective Supervision

As we started to evaluate these three frameworks in my district, we began to wonder if one was more clearly based on research than the others. We are in the process of figuring this out, and I hope to write more about our findings either here later in the month and/or back over at my normal blogging gig on transformED.

But I can at least share our biggest ‘a-ha’ moment: Even the best instructional frameworks had holes in them or promoted to critical instructional techniques that might sound good but which aren’t grounded in the research.

Regardless of which framework we choose, we have a lot of work ahead of us. But all three of them feel like a step in the right direction. By adopting a framework and new evaluation system we have the potential to create a system in which instruction, evaluation, and professional development are working together for the same purpose and using the same approach. I have a feeling it would be a first for us just as it will be a first for many other districts.

Ryan Niman teaches English and Social Studies in the Edmonds School District north of Seattle.

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