Before Including Test Scores, Reform the Structure of Teacher Evaluation Itself

08/25/2011 11:51 am ET | Updated Oct 25, 2011

I've had the privilege of talking to many participants who attended and organized the Save Our Schools march that occurred in Washington D.C. Teachers are angry, and the biggest point of contention is student data being factored into student evaluation. But do you really want to know why teachers are angry about reforming evaluation and tenure? Besides the issue of high stakes test and data, there is a major movement that needs to occur before teachers will come to the table and negotiate new forms and criteria for evaluation.

Before reforming the criteria of evaluation, the processes and structures of evaluations must be reformed. In most schools, the ways teachers are evaluated is terrible, and the main thing is it isn't their fault. They often don't have any sort of power over the structure of the evaluation including pieces such as time and frequency. The traditional picture of teacher evaluation is what I call "drive-by" teacher evaluation. The administrator comes in once at the beginning of the year to see how teachers are doing. The teacher is then told what he or she is doing well and what needs to be improved. At the end of the year, the administrator returns for the official evaluation to see how the teacher is doing and to see if he or she has met the criteria.

The first problem here is frequency. How can you judge a teacher practice based on two observations per year? Even if the administrator has a good understanding that the evaluation is just a moment in time, and that the whole picture of teaching and learning is not being seen, a few visits to at teacher's classroom hardly warrants a comprehensive evaluation of the teachers effectiveness. Frequency needs to increase.

Now before teachers start getting angry, there are many provisions that need to happen in order for frequency of visits and evaluation increase. The culture around evaluation needs to be reframed. It needs to be viewed with the proper lens of formative and summative assessments, just like when we evaluate our students. Not all observations and evaluations should "count." Instead they should be used as they are intended, to provide feedback and goals for the teacher. Teachers need to understand and unpack the criteria. This rarely happens. Teachers don't use the evaluation rubric because they don't own them. The criteria must be tied to the mission and vision of the school as well as individual teacher professional growth plans. Those evaluating must engage the teachers in analyzing the criteria and targeting professional development that is truly needed.

Professional development must be occurring in the year between the evaluations in order to arm the teacher with the skills he or she needs to be an effective teachers. Instructional coaches and leaders must be readily available. The problem is this is often the first area of funding that is cut. How can we expect teachers to improve if we don't provide ongoing professional development and coaching?

If you really want teachers to come to table and even consider using student data as part of their evaluation, then the processes and structures of evaluation must be reformed first. Currently, they are ineffective for both the administrators and the teachers themselves. Instead of being a "hoop to jump through," let's make it an authentic part of the teaching profession as I know some schools have.