It’s Time to Reinvent Teacher Evaluation

Rachel E. Gabriel and Sarah L. Woulfin of the University of Connecticut ask a simple but very important question: Isn’t it time to redesign teacher evaluation? Most states are stuck with laws they wrote to apply for Race to the Top funding. Nearly a decade has passed. We now know that test-based evaluation has failed. Why are so many states and districts holding on to a failed strategy for evaluating teachers? Is it inertia? Apathy?

The model in use is obsolete. It failed. It is time to move on.

“Under RTT, teacher-evaluation policies were designed using economic theories of motivation and compensation and statistical growth tools such as value-added measurement. Evaluation policies based on principles of economics and corporate management have failed to take into account the complex and personalized work of educating students.
While evaluation aims to address teacher performance and quality, what we don’t see is acknowledgement of teacher voice and choice in how policies affect their work. We need to create learning-focused evaluation policies for teachers that enable both students’ and teachers’ growth and align with the needs of schools, students, and communities.

“It’s clear to most educators that the current crop of teacher-evaluation systems is flawed, overwrought, and sometimes just plain broken. Detailed case studies demonstrate that some states now spend millions of dollars on contracts with data-management companies and statistical consulting firms. Many states and districts make similar investments despite the fact that researchers and policymakers question the wisdom of value-added measurement within high-stakes teacher evaluations.

“There is now an entire industry devoted to the evaluation of teaching and the management of student data. There are online professional-development video databases and classroom-walkthrough apps for school leaders—which have not demonstrated a positive effect on instruction. But all of them have inflated the edu-business marketplace…

“A learning-focused teacher-evaluation policy would create the organizational and social conditions teachers need to thrive. During goal-setting with administrators, teachers would work together to write challenging, yet attainable, goals for themselves and their students. They would also have professional-development opportunities to learn about different types of student-progress measurement tools to refine what works best. And in feedback meetings with school leaders, teachers would have space to reflect upon areas of their success and weakness. In turn, principals would devote time and energy to framing evaluation as an opportunity to learn about—rather than judge—teaching.

“To begin the transition toward this kind of evaluation, state and district administrators must shift the balance of resources away from measuring and sorting teachers into categories. School leaders must focus on subject-specific questions about teaching and learning, rather than applying a generic set of indicators. And instead of boiling teachers’ work down to a rating, leaders must share observations that help teachers extend what they do well and identify where they can grow.

“Only when we involve teachers in the process of evaluation policymaking will we come up with a system that supports and develops the teaching expertise students deserve.”

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