Administration & Leadership

Authentic Assessment of Teachers in the Hiring Process

Strategies like teaching demonstrations and portfolio reviews allow administrators to evaluate candidates where it counts—in the classroom.

March 8, 2024
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Hiring decisions are marked by a large number of false positive and false negative results. In a false positive, the school selects a candidate, but once the school year begins, it discovers that the hiring decision was a mistake. In a false negative, a search committee rejects an applicant who proves to be a superstar teacher when hired by another school nearby.    

How do these things happen? The problem lies in a mismatch between the hiring process and the pedagogical skills that teachers are required to implement once on the job. In classrooms, teachers use alternative assessments to distinguish between knowledge measured by traditional tests and that measured by authentic tasks requiring application of skills in everyday situations.

Many students who test well can’t apply the content, and vice versa. Similarly, when teacher candidates are evaluated solely on cover letters, résumés, and interviews, the correlation to actual teaching skills is off-kilter. The conventional hiring process privileges applicants who are adept writers and can perform under pressure but does not sufficiently offer opportunities to demonstrate real classroom skills. 

The high cost of getting hiring wrong

The traditional hiring process also suffers from an inadequate investment of time. In our experience, principals typically spend a total of one-and-a-half hours with a candidate before rendering a hiring decision. That’s like proposing marriage after a couple of short dates! The alternative assessment methods we propose extend time together before a leader makes the most consequential choice in a school year: hiring excellent staff.

The hiring process should be a two-way street. As the school becomes acquainted with a candidate’s teaching skills and personality traits, the candidate becomes familiar with school culture and future colleagues before deciding whether the job is a good match. It is estimated that the cost of a hiring mismatch is $20,000 per vacancy, or $8.5 billion per year nationwide. That’s just the price tag for a renewed job search and retraining; it does not account for the human cost of a novice teacher’s dashed hopes, an upset school community, time diverted from other priorities, and the negative impact on student achievement. 

Administrators and search committees need strategies for assessing candidates that allow both the school community and the prospective teacher to get to know each other better. This requires authentic means of assessment that more accurately foretells a teacher’s on-the-job performance. 

Performance Assessments

In designing interviews for new faculty, the objective is to create performance tasks that emulate on-the-job situations. For example, literacy teacher candidates might simulate a one-on-one writing conference using sample student writing, where a committee member plays the role of the student. Special education teacher and school psychologist applicants can be given time during the interview process to review a battery of assessment tests, then share their interpretation with the committee. Prospective school counselors might role-play counseling a victim of bullying.

Teaching demonstrations are obligatory in many districts. After an initial round of interviews, semifinalists return to teach a class similar to the one they’ll be assigned once employed. To help the candidate plan the lesson, the regular classroom teacher offers guidance regarding instructional objectives and special student needs several days before. The search committee observes the lesson, collects exit tickets at the end to evaluate student learning, then holds a post-observation interview to solicit feedback from the candidate.  

Portfolio Assessment

Portfolio assessment—collecting actual work samples—is an integral part of authentic classroom assessment. During interviews, hiring committees can ask candidates to present a portfolio displaying photographs and videos from model lessons (taken with the permission of the school administration, of course), samples of student work, representative lesson plans, observation and year-end evaluation reports, and testimonial notes from students and parents.

Portfolios may take the form of a website, a flash drive, or a conventional three-ring binder. Depending on how the interview is structured, the applicant might walk the committee through the portfolio during the interview, provide a web address or flash drive, or, in the case of a binder, leave the portfolio for a few days.

Virtual classroom tours: A cousin of the portfolio assessment is a virtual classroom tour. Request that the candidate record a five-minute classroom tour (likely after school, when more privacy is afforded). The camera lens could focus on learning centers, student work samples posted on the walls, arrangement of student desks, etc. The candidate’s running commentary can explain the type of learning the teacher values. For veteran teacher candidates, a virtual classroom visit offers unparalleled authenticity and insight into their teaching persona.

Walk and Talk

Interviewing from the hot seat at the head of a conference table can understandably produce some anxiety. One remedy for the jitters is to shift the setting away from a formal office or conference room and to incorporate physical activity. Enter the “walk and talk.” Once the field is reduced to two or three promising candidates, the principal can invite each candidate to individually tour the school together, popping into classrooms and pausing for impromptu conversations with students, staff, and parents encountered in the hallways. This more informal exercise feels more natural and less nerve-racking. As the principal observes the prospective teacher’s reactions and interactions, the candidate determines whether the fit with the school community feels right. 

Authentic assessment adds an important dimension to the hiring process because it meets the two fundamental assessment standards: validity and reliability. Validity asks, “Does the evaluation measure the target skills?”—in this case, actual classroom performance. Performance and portfolio assessments and virtual classroom tours create situations that simulate teaching much more closely than composing a cover letter and résumé or talking about teaching around an interview table. Reliability refers to obtaining consistent outcomes. Given extended time together and repeated demonstrations of skill in a variety of job-related circumstances, the true nature of the candidate’s potential contribution to the school community is more likely to be revealed.

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