Evaluation

Using Feedback to Foster a Collaborative Campus Culture

Guest post by Melissa King-Knowles

When I was a teacher, I started using feedback looping processes to survey my high school students about particular units and methods of assessment. I asked what they liked and didn’t like and sought input on my teaching practice. With their brutal (ahem, I mean beautiful) honesty, students brought me to my knees on a couple of occasions. (more…)

Advocacy Update

Inside the Beltway

What’s going on in Washington?

Last week, Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) introduced a crucial loan forgiveness bill that would help combat principal turnover. The Recruiting and Retaining Effective School Leaders Act (H.R. 3925) is enthusiastically supported by NASSP, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the American Federation of School Administrators. The bill would provide loan forgiveness over a seven-year period to principals who work in schools where at least 30 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. Last Thursday, November 5, the NASSP Board of Directors took to Capitol Hill to advocate for this bill and for the needs of school principals. Education Week covered the bill and NASSP’s support. (more…)

The Real Problem with Teacher Evaluation

by Stuart Singer, author of The Algebra Miracle

The title of a recent post on the Principal Difference site asked “Teacher Evaluations: Are Principals reluctant to issue low ratings?” This question reflects a painful reality. Placing the responsibility for teacher evaluation squarely on the shoulders of a school’s administrative staff frequently results in inaccurate and often incomplete assessments. These shortcomings are not a reflection on the competence of the administrators. Also somewhat irrelevant is whether these appraisals are unrealistically high or low. What is critical is that teacher evaluations too often fail to reflect with precision an educator’s classroom performance.

Ironically, the solution is simple but will require a changing mindset.

The wrong people for the job

The task of running a school is full time and then some. Asking Assistant Principals to be the primary evaluators of teachers is not fair to either party. Here is a question whose answer may explain the dilemma—how many observations and/or follow up meetings have been postponed because of a school emergency? An honest answer reveals the rank of teacher evaluations on the priority lists of the vast majority of school administrators. It is not that there is a lack of appreciation of teacher evaluation. It is simply the fact that a food fight in the cafeteria requires immediate attention and that there are only so many hours even in an extended work day.

It is time for educational assessments to be the purview of professional evaluators. School districts need to hire, train and employ a cadre of carefully selected individuals, whose sole job is observing, assisting and evaluating instructional personnel. They would work in multiple schools, focusing primarily on academic areas in which they are fluent.

The advantages of such an approach would be numerous.

  • A broader viewpoint. Observing Algebra 1 teachers at five different high schools gives a vastly superior sense of overall quality than watching five in the same department who may be sharing instructional materials. As previously mentioned an additional positive of this plan would be that observers would be better equipped to understand the material being taught. This would resolve the problem faced by so many APs—evaluating staff employed in multiple departments.
  • A more impersonal analysis. School personnel whether in the administrative wing or the English hall, develop relationships, good and bad, as a result of constant interactions. People who are not affiliated with a school would avoid such complications.
  • Evaluation is job one. The typical distractions and interruptions of the AP day are eliminated when an individual’s sole responsibility is to assess educators. The finished product would reflect this singular focus.

The best way to ensure that the most productive teachers remain in the classroom is to develop assessments that determine these individuals and help them to refine and improve their skills. The employment of professionals to conduct these evaluations would be the first step in that critical growth.

Teacher Evaluation: Test-and-Punish is more about perception than reality!

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” – Franklin Roosevelt

The June 10 announcement by the Gates Foundation, which is one the “country’s largest donors to educational causes and a strong backer of the academic guidelines known as the Common Core, calling for a two-year moratorium on states or school districts making any high-stakes decisions based on tests aligned with the new standards” caught many by surprise.

The “high-stakes” decisions referred to in the announcement relate to accountability sanctions levied on schools as well as to new teacher evaluation systems currently being implemented in a number of states. These teacher evaluations systems now require that a significant portion of a teacher’s evaluation (up to 50 percent) be based on test scores related to the new, more rigorous standards. These evaluations are meant to inform teacher retention and hiring decisions.

The simultaneous implementation of the Common Core Standards, new state data systems for measuring school progress, and new teacher evaluation systems, which include student test scores, has overwhelmed school leaders and teachers and has resulted in considerable pushback from educators nationwide, particularly in Race to the Top states like New York, which fast-tracked its Common Core implementation and new teacher evaluation system. The perceived lack of fairness has driven a number of organizations like NASSP, NEA, and AFT to recommend a moratorium on the consequences related to the assessments tied to the new standards.

Vicki Phillips, the director of education for the Gates Foundation, wrote that “the best new ideas aren’t self-fulfilling; they have to be put into practice wisely.” She added: “No evaluation system will work unless teachers believe it is fair and reliable, and it’s very hard to be fair in a time of transition. The standards need time to work. Teachers need time to develop lessons, receive more training, get used to the new tests and offer their feedback.”

Punishment is a Phantom

In Much Ado About a Phantom: Education Brouhaha over Test-and-Punish is a State of Mind, Not State of Reality, Anne Hyslop makes that case that our lack of awareness about the reality of accountability is causing us to overreact to alleged threats of punishment and sanctions, particularly those related to teacher evaluations.

“It’s that the “punish” part of “test-and-punish” doesn’t exist. At least not right now. Thanks to the Obama administration’s No Child Left Behind waivers, there don’t have to be stakes, for anyone, on upcoming state tests. None.”

In fact, high stakes don’t have to enter the picture until Spring 2017.

Teacher Evaluation Timeline

 

“Under the current guidelines, teachers could get two ratings and two rounds of “support and improvement” before any stakes are involved (and even then, federal leverage is limited in terms of how much evaluations must inform personnel decisions). And don’t forget, the Department has also let states apply for an extra year to use evaluations to “inform” those decisions. That delays full implementation until as late as Spring 2018. Simply, the debate over whether there should be consequences for teachers during the transition to new assessments often obscures the fact that a no-stakes period is already standard federal policy. And now that the Department is relaxing its review process for extending the waivers, they could be opening the door to even more delays.”

The reality of current federal policy is that our reactions have much more to do with our perceptions than with the actual policy.

“Accountability systems under NCLB waivers aren’t perfect, and we must continue to refine their design and execution. But they aren’t responsible for the test-and-punish culture at work in far too many schools and districts. What really warrants a transformation isn’t accountability… it’s our response to it.”

What is Too Much Help?

By Stuart Singer, author of The Algebra Miracle

The contradictory nature of comments drew my attention.

“This is the perfect school – really. They do great things – very innovative, research-based practices. They support us a huge amount. Too much, really. Part of the problem is how much support I am given. I am constantly being observed and offered little suggestions. I have to sit down and take apart my thoughts of each class with my mentor, my department head, and fellow teachers. I don’t have the time for that. I just got assigned yet another mentor who wants me to start writing self-reflections. My reviews have been outstanding, but yet, as all new teachers (defined as under 3 years’ experience) have, I have many mentors and an abundance of help. It’s killing me.”

The speaker, a first-year social studies teacher, was reflecting on his first week of school.

Drowning in a sea of good intentions

There is little question that inexperienced teachers need as much support as possible. As stated in previous posts there are few professions that treat their newest practitioners in the same manner as education. No law firm, medical practice or public accountant would assign their least knowledgeable employees the same workload as the savviest. And yet on a regular basis first-year teachers are given the same number of sections, students and preparations as their veteran colleagues. Sadly, in many cases they are not given their own classroom, while being assigned some of the most challenging students and classes in the building.

But while solutions to these problems do exist—give these educators fewer classes and more time to observe and plan—the realities of fiscal restraints work against their implementation. Consequently, (more…)