Surefire way to know if a teacher evaluation system will succeed or fail

August 12, 2012

Ellen Moir

Like school districts all across the country, California’s are figuring out the best way to evaluate teachers. The stark reality is that some districts will be successful in this, and others will not.

Whether a district’s teacher evaluation system works or not will depend on a few things: whether the system is correctly conceived of and designed, how well the system is implemented, and, after evaluation, the district’s level of commitment to ongoing teacher learning.

First and foremost, an evaluation system must be designed with the end goal in mind: to improve teacher effectiveness and student learning. If this sounds too obvious, take a look at the Center for American Progress’ explanation about how some states have viewed evaluation as a means for firing so-called “bad” teachers, as a silver-bullet-style quick fix to dramatically improve education in the nation. It is naive to view evaluation solely as a means to rank teachers and make hiring and firing decisions. Fortunately, the debate is changing.  It is rising up to meet those of us who have long advocated that the best way to improve student learning is to continuously focus on advancing the instructional practice of teachers. Evaluation systems conceived under this philosophy will be the most likely to succeed.

Second, an evaluation system must be designed and implemented well. To us at New Teacher Center (NTC), that means:

As the dialogue on teacher evaluation has moved from gotcha to growth, teachers have warmed to the idea of evaluations, provided that they incorporate the above, are based on multiple measures, and are done by evaluators who have had the necessary professional development to ensure, as best as possible, evaluations are fair and objective. Training for evaluators (for example, how to observe a classroom and how to provide meaningful feedback) is the first form of professional development that will contribute to the success of evaluation systems.

Lastly, there needs to be a commitment to educators’ ongoing learning. Personalized professional learning plans should be created for each teacher as the final phase of any evaluation process. These plans should point teachers toward specific and highly relevant learning opportunities that allow them to address areas of instructional weakness. This will only happen when those responsible for evaluating, coaching, and mentoring teachers and principals are trained in the art of providing meaningful, developmental feedback, encouraging reflection, and creating opportunities for professional growth.

The New Teacher Center has been doing this work for years with new teachers and principals. By working with us to provide new educators with the targeted support, meaningful feedback and relevant learning opportunities they need, our district partners benefit from remarkably effective new teachers and principals who improve student learning and remain committed to the profession.

It’s critical that districts find ways to build these same principles into their evaluation systems because, when it comes down to it, a district’s teacher evaluation system will succeed or fail based on its ability to improve teaching. And we can’t afford to let California districts fail on this.

Ellen Moir is founder and chief executive officer of the New Teacher Center, a national nonprofit organization that she created in 1998 to improve student learning by accelerating the effectiveness of teachers and school leaders, especially in underserved areas. Today this organization has a staff of over 150 who work closely with educators and policymakers across the country to ensure that the nation’s low-income, minority, and English language learners – those students most often taught by inexperienced teachers – have the opportunity to receive an excellent education. 

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