With the demand for school improvement reaching fever pitch, evaluating teacher effectiveness becomes a key component of reform efforts. Yet few agree on the best way to do this. What teacher skills, behaviors and characteristics are associated with better student performance? And which evaluation criteria best distinguish among teachers with varying levels of effectiveness?
Challenges associated with many current teacher evaluation instruments include high teacher pass rates, a failure of the tests to discriminate between higher- and lower-performing educators, and a weak connection between observation criteria and professional development plans.
So where do we go from here? A 2012 report from the Center for American Progress, titled Implementing Observation Protocols: Lessons for K-12 Education from the Field of Early Childhood, suggests that K-12 educators might actually learn a thing or two about teacher performance evaluation from those who serve younger learners.
Report author Robert C. Pianta notes that the majority of K-12 teacher observations “rely on unstandardized, informal and nonvalidated procedures…. Without the more systematic use of standardized, reliable, and validated observational tools, the ultimate value of these observations and the feedback they provide to teachers is limited, particularly when the aims of such approaches include documentation and improvement of practices in a very large number of classrooms (often in the thousands).”
Pianta highlights two well-validated early-childhood teacher/classroom observation instruments—the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS) and the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS)—which model the more rigorous assessment practices needed in K-12. Based on lessons learned from the success of these instruments, tips for improving teacher evaluation processes include:
The report also identifies four research-indicated practices that help teachers develop desired behaviors: (1) providing teachers with knowledge about effective practices; (2) providing professional development that is individualized, classroom practice-based, and ongoing; (3) providing curricular resources and materials; and (4) providing specific feedback on teachers’ own practice.
The Implementing Observation Protocols report illustrates how some of these practices might look in action:
In this scenario, student teacher Ms. McIntyre is formally observed by her lead teacher Dr. Douglas. In the follow-up conversation after the observation:
“Douglas was able to give specific examples of the kinds of teacher and student behaviors she observed. She shared with McIntyre exactly how specific responses to students’ comments increased engagement as well as how missing early signs of student disengagement resulted in time being taken away from instruction and instead directed to behavior. While this observational experience felt more helpful to both parties, the issue of missed early signals of disengagement failed to resonate with McIntyre, precisely because she had missed them.
To remedy this shortcoming…Douglas and McIntyre agreed to videotape the lesson so that they could review the tape together and see the exact same behavioral exchanges. Taking this approach allowed McIntyre to see exactly where she needed to shift her attention and pinpointed changes she could make in her physical presence in the classroom (moving around versus always standing at the front of the room), in the frequency with which she scanned the room, and in how she responded when she noticed a student who appeared bored….This kind of focused feedback supported by the use of video footage was much more helpful to McIntyre than simply reviewing large numbers of scores.”
Consistent with Dr. Douglas' approach, the EducationWorld article Five Ways to Improve Teacher Evaluations recommends aligning teacher evaluations with individual performance improvement plans, while also ensuring that those improvement plans serve to advance broader district goals.
These recommendations also call to mind standards-based teacher evaluation processes described by education researcher Linda Darling-Hammond. Such processes involve an integrated set of measures that demonstrate how teacher behaviors impact student outcomes. The measures may include evidence of student learning, as well as evidence of teacher practices derived from a variety of sources.
Darling-Hammond has emphasized that unlike value-added models (VAMs) for teacher evaluation, standards-based evaluation processes predict student learning as well as teacher learning.