Teaching Opinion

The Futility and Degrading Nature of Evaluation: Evaluation and How to Improve It

By Starr Sackstein — May 24, 2019 4 min read
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I am imperfect.

Chock-full of strengths and challenges, I offer a learning experience with a good deal of nuance.

When I have a purpose or a focus, I’m able to provide specific feedback that can help learners grow. As I focus on those determined areas, however, other things go unnoticed, at least for now and necessarily so. It is impossible to fix, learn, or change everything at once. That is a recipe for disaster.

So when we try to encapsulate learning for a set period of time with an average, or a score, we are taking a series of moments and seeking to quantify that which is objectively impossible to quantify.

For students, one could argue that test scores can provide a glimpse, at best, of some understanding of different topics. Of course, the teacher is determining what is on the test and how it is being assessed and if there isn’t any choice or different ways of showing what students know, there may be a blind spot that isn’t being addressed adequately that still needs to be considered.

With teachers, it is similar in the opposite direction.

Because there are fewer leaders than teachers, most schools will do a maximum of six observations or a minimum of two throughout the year depending on whether or not the teacher is tenured. These observations can be a combination of formal (announced), informal (unannounced), snapshots (only for a portion of the period) or full period. Given that there are more than 150 teaching days (on the conservative side) a year, how can we assess the effectiveness of every teacher?

Sure we can do walk-throughs, have conversations, but with what we can see on a regular basis, we aren’t going to adequately be able to label how much any one teacher knows and can do beyond a small understanding. Even if we give T.I.Ps (Teacher Improvement Plans) or provide professional learning opportunities to build out specific gaps, there will always be a need for follow up and not enough time to adequately provide sufficient help.

Instead, I suggest a collaborative goal setting, observation, conversation cycle that doesn’t seek to label or evaluate teachers but rather set them on a path that helps them toward continual growth, the same way we want students to keep moving forward. Regardless of where a student or teacher is on the spectrum of mastery, everyone deserves to make progress, and that means something different for each learner (student, teacher, leader, and other assorted staff and faculty).

Acknowledging the strengths and challenges that each human brings to the table without judgment opens up a dialogue for deeper learning and understanding at best.

There are ways we can seek to develop a more objective and reflective experience for growth.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Have learners video themselves practicing their learning/skill/classes. These videos will not be for any formal use but for the learner to be able to see themselves as objectively as possible.
  • After viewing the video and taking notes alone, invite a trusted friend to view alongside to have a conversation about what is seen. What is working well already? How do they know? Where is the evidence? What needs work? What kinds of strategies will help? What goals can be set with this new information? When will you meet again to reassess?
  • Teachers can have leaders script lessons or again, a trusted friend script the learning so that they can read a transcript and consider the same questions as with the video. Once the lesson is scripted, the person who was observing can leave wonderings with the script and act as a sounding board for the person. They can take turns doing this.
  • Lesson study is another way to get teachers working together to develop better lessons to help students. Lesson study is an opportunity for colleagues to plan together and then watch each other teach the same lesson and then debrief.
  • Intervisitation is another way to get great ideas by seeing our colleagues in action.
  • Coaches can go in and help teachers gather data and then use that data to help refocus teaching objectives.

At the beginning of each feedback cycle, the teacher/student and the coach/leader/teacher/trusted colleague will co-create goals based on the areas the learner wants to work on that are aligned with the standards. Then they will select how they will practice and for how long and then they will determine when to have a conversation about new data collected, wonderings and noticings and reflection that comes out of the cycle. The pair can then determine whether new goals need to be set or if the same goals need to be continued through another cycle.

If we want learners to develop a growth mindset, we have to stop shaming them with labels that can shut the whole learning process down. Although constructive feedback is essential to growth, how we share it and when helps determine how or if it will be heard and internalized. Doesn’t matter how much feedback we are putting out if the receiver isn’t hearing us. Again, it’s an act of futility and a waste of time.

How can we make the way we give and receive feedback for learning more impactful? Please share

*picture made using pablo.com

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.