Thanks to its partnership with publisher Eye on Education, EducationWorld is pleased to present this blog post by Toby Rothstein Gruber, Eye On Education's Director of Professional Services. In this piece, Gruber compares formal teacher evalautions to informal ones, citing the benefits of each.
As a former teacher in a large urban school district, I remember being evaluated like it was yesterday. On the day of an evaluation, the principal would walk into my classroom with her checklist, pen and clipboard, sit at the back of the room, and observe. Some of my students would ask why she was sitting there, while others just ignored her. I tried hard to focus on the lesson and quietly breathed a sigh of relief when she left. Much like the contestants on American Idol, it felt as though my entire career as a teacher was being judged on 45 minutes. I guess I can’t complain because American Idol contestants get much less than that.
Now, school districts are being required to form teacher evaluation systems that also take student performance into account. With an increased number of districts moving toward merit pay, it’s no wonder that the topic of teacher evaluation is a hot one.
Is there a benefit to one kind of evaluation system over another? Let’s take a closer look at the two main types — formal and informal.
In Evaluating What Good Teachers Do, James Stronge describes formal evaluations as situations where an evaluator conducts a structured or semistructured planned observation—either announced or unannounced—typically of a teacher who is presenting a lesson to, or interacting with, students.
Evaluators can use formal observations as one source of information to determine whether a teacher is meeting expectations for performance standards. Typically, the evaluator provides feedback about the observation during a review conference with the teacher. Formal classroom observations should last for a specified amount of time—for example, 30 or 45 minutes, or the duration of a full lesson. For maximum value, the building-level administrator should ensure that formal observations occur throughout the year.
Formal evaluations are like summative assessments. They are given at certain times of the year and tied to teacher competencies; however, there are some concerns about the effectiveness of formal evaluation systems. In a recent Education Week article, a Florida teacher writes about how her district’s updated evaluation policy landed her with an “effective” rating instead of a “highly effective” one, thereby disqualifying her for a pay increase. Is this a fair way to weed out ineffective teachers?
An informal classroom observation, as defined by Sally Zepeda in Informal Classroom Observations on the Go, is a way to get instructional supervision and teacher evaluation out of the main office. Teachers need feedback more than once or twice a school year. Informal classroom observations provide valuable opportunities for more frequent interaction between the supervisor and the teacher in a nonthreatening, nonevaluative manner.
Informal classroom observations can provide opportunities to extend the talk about teaching, if the supervisor and coach carve out enough time after the observation to engage teachers in a discussion about their instructional practices during the post-observation conferences.
Dr. Zepeda emphasizes that an informal observation should occur in a 15- to 20-minute window. This allows both the evaluator and teacher to have ample time to discuss and reflect on teacher best practices in the context of the teacher’s classroom.
Teachers and principals agree that there is a need for both informal and formal observations. While each serves a different purpose, when used effectively and in support of one another, they support teacher growth and impact student achievement.
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