Teachers Evaluating Teachers 

In this important Education Week article, consultant Julia Koppich and Daniel Humphrey of SRI International challenge the widely-held belief that teacher evaluation must be separated from teacher support. “It’s an assumption that makes perfect prima facie sense,” they say, “but as our research shows, the assumption is wrong… Truly effective evaluation programs combine accountability and support.” 

Koppich and Humphrey studied two California districts (Poway and San Juan) that implemented Peer Assistance and Review (PAR), in which carefully selected veteran teachers leave their classrooms for a period of time and give a year of intensive support to beginning or underperforming colleagues. The consulting teachers, as they are called, receive a stipend in addition to their regular salaries and in most cases are responsible for conducting end-of-year evaluations of their teachers. These summative evaluations are reviewed by a joint labor-management board, which then makes recommendations on PAR teachers’ employment status to the superintendent and school board. Here are Koppich and Humphrey’s observations about how this program is working in the two districts:

PAR consulting teachers – They combine evaluation with support – and the combination seems to work well. Consulting teachers diagnose each participating teacher’s strengths and weaknesses vis-à-vis the district’s standards, develop a customized year-long improvement program, and work with each teacher to implement it, conducting as many as 30 informal and five formal observations of each teacher. “Many teachers make it out of PAR,” report Koppich and Humphrey, “but some don’t… [M]aking tough decisions about individuals’ employment status is never easy. But it must be done, and done with care and rigor.”

How did consulting teachers’ evaluations compare with those of building principals? Koppich and Humphrey found that although principals almost always came to the same bottom-line conclusion about each teacher, the difference in the quality of their evaluations was dramatic. “Principals’ evaluations were much sketchier than those undertaken by consulting teachers,” they say. “Their ratings were based on many fewer observations. Their analyses of teachers’ practice tended to focus on one or two areas rather than on the whole picture of teaching. Documentation and evidence were sparse.” Principals had about seven pages of documentation on each teacher, compared with 190 pages gathered by consulting teachers. This was because principals were spread thin in terms of the number of teachers they evaluate and their limited subject-area expertise. “Who has the time and the knowledge to do this important work?” The authors believe consulting teachers can do a far better job.

The PAR governing board – Koppich and Humphrey observed meetings and couldn’t tell which members represented the district and which represented the union. “Conversations focused on intensive, high-level questioning and probing about serious matters of teaching and learning,” they report. “The boards ensured both that consulting teachers focused on improving instruction and that their evaluations of participating teachers were based on solid evidence.” Board members were also not shy about criticizing principals’ evaluations of teachers, and sometimes asked principals to re-do them with more evidence.

Labor-management relations – In these districts, the PAR boards also provided a forum in which district and union officials collaboratively addressed operational and policy issues that might have wound up in grievances or remained unresolved. “Though both Poway and San Juan have in the past experienced rocky union-district relations,” report Koppich and Humphrey, “PAR has served as a springboard for building strong connections. More than simple collaborative efforts, through PAR, management and unions are doing the hard work of confronting tough, high-stakes issues and reaching accord on how to proceed when decisions carry real and human consequences.” 

“Getting Serious About Teacher Evaluation: A Fresh Look at Peer Assistance and Review” by Julia Koppich and Daniel Humphrey in Education Week, Oct. 12, 2011 (Vol. 

31, #7, p. 28, 25); http://policyweb.sri.com/cep/projects/displayProject.jsp?Nick=PARPeer;

Humphrey can be reached at daniel.humphrey@sri.com. 

From the Marshall Memo #407

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