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Mike Schmoker on Teacher Evaluation Checklists


The article: “The Next Education Fad: Complex Teacher Evaluations that Don’t Work” by Mike Schmoker in Education Week, 29 August 2012 (32 2, pp. 20-24);
In this biting Education Week article, author/consultant Mike Schmoker lambastes what he calls “complex, bloated … jargon-laced, confusing” rubrics and checklists that some school administrators are being asked to use for classroom observations (he cites a 116-item rubric being used in one state—see Marshall Memo 424).
“Once again, we are rushing into a premature, ill-conceived innovation—without any solid evidence that it promotes better teaching,” says Mr. Schmoker. “Like so many past reforms, this one will be launched nationally, like a bad movie, without being piloted and refined first. (Imagine if we did this with prescription drugs.) … Rather than improve schools, it will only crowd out and postpone our highest, most urgent curricular and instructional priorities.”
Mr. Schmoker is also critical of the traditional teacher-evaluation model—pre-observation conferences, full-lesson classroom visits (announced in advance), and post-observation conferences—which he says is far too time-consuming and burdened with bureaucratic paperwork.
Not that teacher evaluation is not important to getting better student results. Mr. Schmoker sees far too many ineffective teaching practices in American classrooms, and knows they need to be addressed. But to be effective, school leaders need to “focus on only one or two elements at a time, with multiple opportunities for teachers to practice and receive feedback from their evaluators,” he says.
Mr. Schmoker goes on to ridicule the language of some widely used teacher-evaluation rubrics:
-Lessons need to be taught with “simultaneous multisensory representations”;
-Teachers should get their students to apply “interdisciplinary knowledge through the lens of local and global issues”;
-Lessons should “reflect understanding of prerequisite relationships among topics and concepts and a link to necessary cognitive structures.”
Getting feedback on criteria like these is not going to help teachers improve, says Mr. Schmoker. “Moreover, most of these frameworks insist—against all research and evidence to the contrary—that teachers must provide lessons that include special materials for each individual student or subgroup, all while addressing dozens of other criteria.”
So what does Mr. Schmoker suggest? First, make sure every teacher has a clear, coherent statement of what their students should know and be able to do by the end of the school year (the Common Core is very helpful in this regard). Second, ensure that students have daily opportunities to read, discuss, and write, using high-quality, content-rich texts in all subject areas. “This simple, timeless emphasis is the key to success on tests, in college, and in careers,” he says. And third, evaluate teachers on how well they are working with their teams to implement these key factors.
What about classroom visits? Mr. Schmoker believes they should be frequent, largely unannounced, and not encumbered by lengthy pre- and post-observation conferences—and administrators should look for these elements:
-A clear, well-defined purpose and objective;
-Student attention and engagement;
-Multiple short segments of instruction, immediately followed by…
-Opportunities for students to process and/or practice what was just taught…
-With the teacher checking for understanding, followed by…
-Adjustments to the lesson and pace to ensure that all students succeed.
In fairness, Mr. Schmoker concedes, these elements can be found in some rubrics and checklists. “But they are not written clearly or prominently enough to be seen as indispensable priorities,” he says. “Instead, they are obscured by the dozens of other specious, confusing evaluation criteria that surround them.”
“It is high time that the reform community grows up and learns that schools will not improve until we put the brakes on untested, overblown initiatives,” Mr. Schmoker concludes. “These prevent us from focusing on the most effective practices long enough for them to take hold. Clear, minimalist, priority-driven evaluation could play a central role in ensuring that such practices become the norm.”
Summary reprinted from Marshall Memo 450, 3 September 2012.

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