Teacher Evaluation Pt. 2: The Solutions

Teacher Evaluation Pt. 2: The Solutions

By Scott Marion | National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment | February 7, 2019

"We should create systems that incentivize teachers and others to create better local measures, use assessment information to foster student learning, and document student progress over time."
"We should create systems that incentivize teachers and others to create better local measures, use assessment information to foster student learning, and document student progress over time."
"We should create systems that incentivize teachers and others to create better local measures, use assessment information to foster student learning, and document student progress over time."

I lamented the unrealized promise of state-required educator evaluation in part one of this series. Instead of giving up, I offer some thoughts for how educator evaluation can be used to improve teaching and learning.

I unabashedly support the notion that all people need high-quality feedback in order to improve their performance, whether we’re talking about teaching, golf, art, or writing. The days of teachers working in the silos of their classrooms or principals engaging in perfunctory fly-by evaluations will not suffice with increased demands for student learning.

Striving for Coherence

The main problem with previous and many current versions of state-led educator evaluation systems, especially those created to meet Race-to-the-Top requirements, was considerable incoherence. School and educator accountability (evaluation) systems were treated as entirely separate enterprises. Evidence of student learning and teacher practices were treated as if they were not embodied in the same person, and principals were somehow expected to implement new systems without any training or experience. Therefore, in order to create more coherent evaluation and support systems, I offer the following recommendations.

1. Connect school and educator accountability

All states are required to implement school accountability systems under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Schools that are unarguably low performing (e.g., low student growth and low student achievement) likely need more state oversight to build the leader and educator capacity to enact meaningful educator support and evaluation systems. On the other hand, schools that are performing well should have the autonomy to implement their own performance management systems.

2. Principals are the lynchpin

The push for comparable, state-defined educator evaluation systems has contributed to treating educator effectiveness as a measurement problem with a focus on standardization and comparability. Most experts agree that educator evaluation is not measurement. Shifting evaluation to local educational leaders could shift the orientation to personnel evaluation, allowing users to focus on feedback for improving performance rather than trying to precisely measure a hypothetical trait.

On the other hand, we are not blind to reasons why proponents first pushed for state control of educator evaluations. School and district leaders have demonstrated little capacity to enact systems that support improvements in educator practice and the willingness to make the hard personnel calls when necessary. Therefore, states should help support and perhaps provide oversight to ensure that local districts develop the capacity to enact high-quality support and evaluation systems to avoid exacerbating existing inequalities.

States, following federal requirements, appeared to create “principal-proof” evaluation systems, which were as ineffective as “teacher-proof” curriculum. Principals, like any managers, need to have the capacity to manage their portfolio of professionals. Further, principals, as the instructional leaders, are ultimately responsible for ensuring the quality of instruction and learning in their buildings. Leaders must have the knowledge and skills necessary to evaluate and provide useful feedback to educators to support meaningful improvement. Leaders also need the authority to implement such system, while allowing for protections common to most collective bargaining agreements. Finally, if building leaders are ultimately accountable for improvements in student learning, they would be wise to hire and support the highest quality teaching staff possible, which could ameliorate some concerns about the need to protect teachers from capricious “evaluations” by school principals.

3. Student learning must count

Both educator practices and evidence of student learning should be considered in a coherent evaluation system. For example, most of the major tools for measuring teacher practice (e.g., Danielson’s Framework) require evidence of teachers’ planning and executing instructional activities or units. So wouldn’t it also make sense to include some indication of what students learned from these units? The evidence of student learning generally comes from assessments only peripherally related to activities that occurred in the context of classroom observations.

We should create systems that incentivize teachers and others to create better local measures, use assessment information to foster student learning, and document student progress over time. In fact, almost all of the major tools for evaluating practice include rubrics for teachers’ assessment literacy and the use of assessment results to improve learning. For example, the Danielson Framework (2014) includes criteria for “designing student assessments” as part of Domain 1 (Planning and Preparation). This is just one example, but it is clear that Danielson and others draw attention to appropriate design and use of assessments for instruction and learning.

4. Contextualize and embed

The next step is to include student performance results in the evaluation of teachers in ways that are coherent with evaluations of teacher practice. One way to accomplish this is by contextualizing the support and evaluation process within rich curriculum units, such as those designed through an Understanding by Design (UBD) framework (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). Such units include multiple measures of student performance that are not seen as extra, accountability assessments. Additionally, such instructional units are often designed collaboratively by teams of educators, which can enhance the internal accountability associated with this more contextualized approach.

The instructional units provide opportunities for generating and collecting data related to many aspects of teaching practice. Among other artifacts, the UBD planning templates, the student work generated from the assessments, and the teachers’ actions as a result of analyzing the student work will serve as meaningful evidence of teaching quality. A major advantage of such an approach is that evaluators can examine teaching practices, assessments, and evidence of student learning all from a similar context to get a more holistic understanding of teaching effectiveness and provide feedback in a highly-relevant context to support improved practice.

What now?

My support for educator evaluation systems is contingent upon recognizing the central role that school leaders play in supporting teaching quality and evaluating their personnel. Such systems must coherently privilege the critical connections among instruction, assessment, and evidence of student learning if they are to lead to improvement in teaching quality and student learning.

  • Danielson, C. (2014). The framework for teaching: Evaluation instrument (2013 edition). Retrieved January 14, 2019 from https://www.danielsongroup.org/framework/.
  • Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (2nd edition). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Scott Marion is a national leader in designing innovative and comprehensive assessment systems to support both instructional and accountability uses. He is the Executive Director of The National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment and coordinates and/or serves on five district state Technical Advisory Committees for assessment, accountability and educator evaluation. Read part 1 of his blog series here.



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