How should teachers be evaluated?
It’s a line that would make most teachers tremble: “We applaud your efforts but regret to inform you that your students’ standardized testing data ranked well below target, and you will therefore be terminated, effective immediately.”
From the inner city schools of Chicago, where teachers staged a strike last September, to our nation’s capital, where academic policies force the firing of teachers routinely, the debate rages on teacher evaluations.
Although numerous issues are involved, educators agree on one point: No teacher wants to be reduced to a number.
“While teachers definitely should be evaluated, the basis of that evaluation should not be limited to one standardized test score,” says R. Lewis Cordell, an instructor at the University of Phoenix San Diego Campus in the master’s in education program. Instead, he says, teachers need to take charge of shaping reform.
Cordell, who helped craft the review system in his school district, explains that educators where he works are evaluated by such factors as how they construct lesson plans and whether they maintain a positive classroom environment.
“When we do a formal review, the teacher has to turn in lesson plans, then the administrator observes the classroom in action, and there is a post-conference reflection on what took place,” he explains. “It’s a more personalized approach.”
He suggests that the evaluation process also requires dedicated personnel.
“If we are really serious about evaluating teachers, public schools need to expand the administrative staff,” Cordell says, “by hiring someone in each school dedicated to classroom observation.”
Like Cordell, alumna Kristie Martorelli, Arizona’s 2012 Teacher of the Year who received a Master of Arts in Education/Administration and Supervision, believes that a review system has to have multiple measures, since many tasks that teachers perform daily are hard to quantify.
In addition to the need for test scores to measure achievement, Martorelli, a kindergarten-to-third-grade reading interventionist, says that growth should be a factor. “Teachers could be evaluated on their commitment to professional development, so that they never stop improving their instruction and desire to improve,” she says.
She also believes that teachers would be better evaluated the same way educators evaluate students, by identifying strengths and weaknesses and working toward improvement.
In a teacher’s case, she adds, that could involve observing the classroom of another teacher with a different approach to learning in order to develop deficient skills.
Another idea for evaluation reform comes from a study by the Gates Foundation that found benefits from students offering feedback in year-end surveys. Both Cordell and Martorelli agree with that concept, though Martorelli adds that the practice is controversial since students can give negative reviews as payback for poor grades.
Cordell, a middle school counselor who often spends his days addressing parent complaints about teachers, is more encouraging of the model: “It’s not a part of our culture, like it is in higher education,” he says, “but I often wish it were.”