Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Gina Burkhardt on Teacher Evaluation

Executive Vice President, American Institutes for Research

How did we get here? Most teacher evaluation systems have shared a critical flaw: they try to measure a narrow range of things that teachers do rather than what students learn. The evaluation checklist forms so prevalent in today’s schools strive to avoid controversy by focusing on whether teachers complete tasks such as turning in lesson plans and posting standards. While these actions are easily observable, even in a 10-minute classroom visit, there is no explicit linkage to how these tasks improve the instruction students receive each day. The result is an instrument that only takes into account information from a couple of point-in-time observations and offers little guidance for teachers or their principals about how to move teaching and learning forward. The state of teacher evaluations became woeful enough that all parties – educators, national union leaders, parents, and community members – began clamoring for change.

And the good news is as teachers, principals, district administrators, and union officials come together around the country, they are discovering that they aren’t so far apart in their views on good teacher evaluation. They are looking to design new systems that bridge the art and science of teaching and recognize teachers as professionals who have a tremendous impact on what and how students learn.
Designing a better teacher evaluation system begins with a culture shift from evaluation as a one-time event to a continuous performance management process. Talented teachers and leaders are the foundation of every successful school, and cultivating this talent is an ongoing process that requires continuous feedback and support for educators’ growth and development. Viewed through this lens, it becomes clear that a good teacher evaluation system requires a balance of self-reflection, teacher support, and accountability for results. A rigorous performance management system incorporates a variety of perspectives and data points. Student outcomes are one such data point that must be used in concert with other information, which can range from self-assessment to peer review to evidence-based observations of practice, to get a holistic view of teachers’ performance.

Most critical to the implementation of new evaluation system is that teachers understand the performance expectations and are given the support to help them get there. A tenet of good instruction is that students know what they’re being graded on; the same should be said for teachers, from the moment they are recruited to join a school community. At the same time, principals and other evaluators must be accountable for using the tools reliably and fairly and connecting teachers to the support and resources that they need.

While the news media often frame the teacher evaluation movement as a struggle between reformers and the status quo, communities across the country are rejecting the false choice between evaluating teachers and valuing them. The reality is much more complicated. A good teacher evaluation system reveals the critical role teachers play in shaping students’ lives, even as it highlights opportunities for improvement. We still have a way to go but are on the right path to creating performance management systems that nurture talent for the benefit of all—teachers, children and communities.