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An article last month in The Christian Science Monitor focused on teacher evaluation reform (see Paulson, available online). The article, “Back to school: How to measure a good teacher,” focuses on the positive outcomes for education and for students  as teacher evaluation reforms are implemented. Here are a few highlights from the article (italicized below):

Students Meet and Exceed (Increased) Teacher Expectations.

For most of her 11 years of teaching elementary school, Amanda Newman was considered a perfect teacher. She almost always walked out of her principal’s annual evaluations with a score of 144 out of 144… when [the] district overhauled its teacher evaluation program… Ms. Newman [received] specific guidelines and feedback on her teaching technique [and] she began to push the kids in ways she never would have thought second-graders capable of, and their performance soared. [The result?] The mean standardized test score for reading in her second-grade class moved from the 41st percentile in 2010 to the 60th this year; in math the mean moved from the 50th to the 69th percentile.

… a district shift to “student ownership.” “Sometimes we underestimate what kids can do,” Newman.

Teachers Receive Specific Feedback to Improve.

A landmark 2009 study of 12 districts in four states by TNTP … confirmed what many in the education field already knew: Traditional “evaluations” gave very little useful feedback to teachers and their administrators.

“We have a culture of continuous improvement, and teachers are intent on getting better,” says Kate Baker, [a] principal.

Feedback Helps High and Solid Performers Excel and Low Performers Move Up or Out.

“If you don’t know who your best teachers are, how do you work to promote and retain them? You need to identify teachers struggling and do your best to get them to a satisfactory level or, if you can’t, get them exited… You can’t do [these] things if you don’t have a good system to accurately measure performance” Dan Weisberg, executive vice president at The New Teacher Project (TNTP).

“Can we improve struggling teachers? It’s one of the things we don’t know,” says Weisberg. Good evaluation systems, he hopes, can help districts target their professional development wisely to help those teachers. But, he says, when teachers don’t improve they need to leave the classroom.

Instead of just focusing on how to punish or reward the worst or best 5 percent of teachers, [Elena Silva, a former senior policy analyst at Education Sector] notes, “the larger solution lies with the 90 percent [in the middle], and helping that 90 percent improve and creating the conditions necessary for them to do their job well.”

Measuring teaching only means something if those results are put to good use: to identify – and possibly remove – the very worst teachers, if necessary, and to support teachers and help them get better.

Create an Evaluation System with Buy-In and Multiple and Valid Measures

The long-term, ongoing Gates foundation Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) study has… found that the most important elements [to include in evaluations] are detailed observations tied to a specific rubric; student achievement growth, measured, in most cases, by value-added test scores that try to isolate the teacher’s contribution to students’ scores; and student surveys rating teachers on such factors as how well they support, or challenge, or provide feedback.

Small details in how the systems are rolled out make a big difference in the districts and states that have undertaken overhauls of teacher evaluation. Involving teachers in a meaningful way in the design, for instance, is key, as are good communication and shifting resources to fund the new plan.

[Achievement] test scores are just one piece of a system [at one school] that also includes detailed observations from in-school and out-of-school evaluators, and surveys of students, peers, administrators, and parents. Every teacher is assigned a coach, who helps them improve and hone their craft in weekly or biweekly meetings… Even more important, say other [teachers], they have supports that help them use the feedback to improve.

“If you had a basket of evidence, you would… see that the scores were high. You might have also seen classroom evidence… ” says Darling-Hammond. “The issue is not, ‘Do we look at student learning?’ The issue is, ‘How do [we] look at the data?'”

[Establishing valid measures is also key.] “I went from being very enthusiastic about these methods to extremely worried,” says Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford education professor who has researched teacher evaluation extensively and says she’s seen value-added scores bounce wildly around even when she and other researchers believed they’d controlled for all student characteristics.

According to Paulson, advocates for teacher reform suggest that “Done right… strong evaluation systems could be a game changer for both teachers and their students, reshaping the profession and pushing teachers to improve.” Paulson’s article provides examples which support many of the potential benefits of reform. The focus for all stakeholders involved, however, is to make certain that the evaluative measures agreed upon and implemented are both reliable and valid measures of teacher performance.



Paulson, Amanda. August 12, 2012. Back to school: How to measure a good teacher. The Christian Science Monitor. Available online.

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