Education Trends

What Doesn’t Work When Evaluating Teachers

As the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) roles out, there are three ripple effects that school leaders and teachers should be aware of in terms of teacher evaluation.

July 19, 2016

How do you know if a classroom teacher is effective? Ask a teacher, and they will ask you in return, "Are students learning in that classroom?" In an effort to determine teacher effectiveness -- or if the students are learning -- one state, Texas, is embarking on a new teacher evaluation tool that will replace its system that it has used for nearly 20 years.

ESSA and Teacher Evaluation Systems

One of the new elements of the Texas teacher evaluation system is that student growth will be worked into each teacher evaluation. That sounds like value-added assessment might be making a comeback. Value-added assessment is when students' test scores are compared to their test scores from previous years or to test scores of different students in the same grade, showing the value that their current teacher added to their learning and growth. Since Texas opted out on the requirements for Race to the Top, is this state considering giving value-added assessment a shot? The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) required value-added, but the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) does not. One clear element to this new evaluation system in Texas is that each of its districts can set their own standards for what that means.

In fact, this is happening in numerous districts across the U.S. These various rubrics for teacher performances are extremely detailed. Making sure that the teachers know and can do what each of these rubrics demand, for various reasons, is going to be an incredible challenge. So the game is changing, just like it did when NCLB arrived.

Let's look at three possible ripple effects. These are important for teachers and administrators to be aware of, and it's important for them to think about the ways they can respond as ESSA roles out.

Ripple Number One: Ignoring Factors That Affect Student-Learning

Will teachers alter student-learning objectives because student performance is 20 percent of their evaluation? As much as I believe that a great teacher is the single most important factor in increasing student learning (at school), there are other factors totally outside of the control of teachers, administration, school systems, state governments, and especially the federal government. I suppose that is where the value-added element is introduced; you test students first and measure what increases they achieved under your tutelage. We have perpetuated a myth that a great teacher always finds a way to help students learn, bending or breaking the traditional rules of learning if necessary.

A value-added measurement to a teacher evaluation system just doesn't make sense since many other factors come into play that affect a student's ability to learn. Ultimately, the data gathered on value-added student performance would be much more useful in the hands of the departments and teacher professional learning communities rather than being used as a determiner of teacher effectiveness.

Ripple Number Two: Devaluing Teacher-Colleague Feedback and Support

Teachers need administrators. Teachers depend on administrators for taking care of scheduling, maintaining logistics and traditions, distributing funding and materials, upkeep of the campus, safety, and of course, student discipline. While the administrator is in a position to identify and spot-check for instructional weaknesses, the current configuration of the role of administrator is not in anyway capable of monitoring and promoting continual growth in teacher effectiveness. In the schools I have visited and worked at teachers do not depend on the administrators for providing timely advice on how to improve practice; they depend on their fellow teachers, teacher leaders (including their department chairs), or the extended teaching community for developing their pedagogical practices. Therefore, an effective evaluation system should most certainly include dialogue of what a teacher has done to work closely with their colleagues for help, guidance, and support, as well as how that has changed her or his practice and student learning for the better.

Ripple Number Three: Overtaxed Administrators

Teachers and school leaders realized long ago the little benefit from any summative teacher evaluation system only done annually. Formative assessments of teaching practices are absolutely necessary for improving teaching. However, it's questionable how administrators will find time to do all the additional required meetings and conferences, as well as formative assessments that some new evaluation systems require to help teachers improve their practice. Significant time would have to be spent in the teacher's classroom. Unfortunately, this is an unrealistic mandate for administrators given their current duty loads. Again, working with colleagues -- teacher leaders and department chairs -- could be an effective practice when formatively assessing teaching and learning.

As ESSA roles out, what would you like to see change (or stay the same) in the teacher evaluation system in place at your district or school? Please share in the comments section below.

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