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IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Stronge & Associates: Recent Trends in Teacher Evaluation
By Jess Hench 19-Nov-15
In our globalized societies, it is no longer enough to judge a single school, a school district, or even a nation’s school system in isolation. We are constantly pushed to compare student achievement and teacher effectiveness in our schools across the globe, which makes teacher evaluation increasingly prominent in schools. There are a variety of evaluation methods in use, and some may be more effective than others. Last year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in cooperation with Scholastic, conducted a comprehensive survey of 20,000 teachers from across the U.S. The Primary Sources (2014) report presents the teachers’ perspectives about educational issues and provides evidence that evaluation of teachers can be highly valuable. Most U.S. teachers are evaluated at least once per year, and most believe they should be evaluated more often, as 78 percent of teachers find evaluations to be helpful. Those who do not find evaluations helpful indicated that they desire more personalized feedback in order to improve their practice, increased fairness in evaluation, and more qualified evaluators. Teachers also expressed that evaluations based on three or more metrics—such as observations, artifacts, student surveys, and test scores—are more effective than evaluations based on fewer metrics, such as students’ standardized test scores or classroom observations only. The Importance of Using Multiple Data Sources Evaluation systems that focus heavily on single-test scores can hurt rather than help teachers. Linda Darling-Hammond, a prominent researcher from Stanford University, suggests multiple measures for evaluating teacher effectiveness: classroom observations and classroom evidence, a variety of assessments that demonstrate student learning, and teachers’ professional behaviors within the school (2014). She notes that effective evaluation systems are those that consist of standards-based metrics that examine planning, instruction, and the learning environment, along with student assessment. A 2015 study by Whitehurst, Chingos, and Lindquist examined the design and performance of teacher evaluation systems in four districts. The study found that teacher evaluation scores based on school-level value-added scores, classroom observations, and other student and administrator ratings are predictive of a teacher’s ability to raise student test scores in the next year. Therefore, teacher evaluation systems based on a variety of metrics, including appropriate student achievement measures, are far more effective than those based on credentials such as the teacher’s degrees attained or years of experience. Assessment tools for teacher evaluation typically fall under six categories: classroom observation, instructional artifacts, portfolios, teacher self-reports, student surveys, and value-added assessment (Hinchey, 2010). Collecting evidence from a variety of sources creates a balance between the strengths and weaknesses of each single tool. This provides a more holistic picture of a teacher’s performance and any areas in need of development. Classroom Observations: What Works and What Doesn’t In support of the Primary Sources finding that most teachers would prefer to be evaluated more often, Whitehurst et al. found that classroom observations comprise 50–75 percent of the overall evaluation scores for teachers. They found that increasing observations, even from one to two during a school year, improved the predictive power for next year’s value-added scores, compared with conducting just one observation. Observations also yield higher predictive power for next year’s value-added scores when they are conducted by evaluators from outside the teacher’s own school. A 2012 study by Taylor and Tyler explored the impact of evaluation on teaching. They studied midcareer teachers who were observed in their classrooms four times during a school year. The observations were conducted once by the principal or another school administrator, and three times by peer evaluators (experienced teachers from other schools who were trained to evaluate). The study found that teachers’ performance increased during the year they were evaluated and continued to increase in the following years. Teachers who had been evaluated compared to those who were not evaluated had gains in students’ math test scores, revealing that a student whose teacher is evaluated can expect to see student academic gains. Performance improvement was highest among teachers who had previously lower performance and student test-scores. Additionally, it is important to note that evaluations are more effective when they allow for quality feedback from observers, discussion of effective teaching practices, and opportunities for teachers to self-reflect.
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