We are beset with rubrics! Education now competes with Mobil Guide, Consumer Reports and the movie industry in our ability to rate things. We have become accustomed to the countless rubrics used for grading students’ assignments and assessments. But now we are learning how to use rubrics for teacher and principal evaluation as well. These rubrics are long, detailed, and researched. They must be approved by state departments of education, negotiated between district leaders and union leaders, and adopted by districts. Of course not all states are the same but the tide is clearly advancing. Some rubrics have as many as 300 boxes to complete, read, understood, and selected, in the evaluation process. Training time is limited. Deadlines for implementation are immediate.
Once again we are presented with a choice-point. We can respond pro forma by accepting this process as a required task, schedule evaluations and post-evaluation feedback sessions, fill out the forms, review the evidence required, participate in a required meeting with due diligence, come up with the value for the observation or evaluation, and check it off our list as another task completed. Or, we can find a way to embrace this as an opportunity, albeit one seemingly piled on to a whole ream of other “opportunities” that have come sliding down the mountain like lava out of an erupting volcano.
One advantage of these rubrics is they present us with a common vocabulary around the values and behaviors of our teachers and principals. In each of the descriptors or indicators in each of the categories, there is an opportunity for discussion in order to come to agreement about what it means, what it will look like in practice, and what evidence or what artifact will best be presented to demonstrate its practice.
Evidence-based practice is a fundamental part of these new systems. But the interpretation of what evidence-based means is broad. Some offer encouragement to produce evidence as if we are the defense in an investigation. Unfortunately, toxic environments do exist in which people feel the need to defend their work. This will only exaggerate those environments. Indeed, there are situations where people are not doing a good enough job. They too, must demonstrate and defend their work. For the most part, we are professionals in a community of practice who are interested in growing the practice and the profession.
The best rubrics are created together, the evaluator and the evaluated. Absent that practice, it is best to introduce the rubric at the beginning of the process or assignment, walk students through it, check for understanding, and have them use it as a guide as they perform the task being evaluated. The best use of rubrics for evaluation of teachers and principals is the same. Our experience and training with the use of rubrics as a staircase towards professional development and performance is varied. However, we can take a common sense approach and think about how we can avoid this becoming another task on the list and embed it into our practice to help improve performance.
The inherent danger is that these rubrics have been mandated, imposed if you will, upon us. Perhaps there was no better way. It will surely be a morale killer and definitely a missed opportunity if we cannot leverage this mandate. At least there was a bit of choice offered in which rubric to select.
Educationnext published the research of Eric S. Taylor and John H. Tyler who studied the question ‘Can Teacher Evaluation Improve Teaching?’ In it, they reported “We find that teachers are more effective at raising student achievement during the school year when they are being evaluated than they were previously, and even more effective in the years after evaluation.”
NAESP (National Association of Elementary School Principals) and the NASSP (National Association of Secondary School Principals, together published Rethinking Principal Evaluation: A New Paradigm Informed by Research and Practice. They report a clear relationship between quality leadership and teacher quality, instructional quality, and student achievement.
The more we understand about the rubrics and the improvement of teaching and leading practice, the better we can be at improving the daily practice of our leaders and our teachers. In this case, students really may be the final beneficiaries.
NB: Jill consults for LCIltd. on the MPPR
The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 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.