New Teacher Evaluation Models for New Millennium Teachers

So I’ve finally stolen a few minutes from my incredibly hectic life to poke through a new report titled Making Teacher Evaluation Work for Students that was crafted by the 32 accomplished practitioners in the Denver New Millennium Initiative (DNMI).

With the help of the Center for Teaching Quality—my blog’s sponsors and long-time professional mentors—these teachers spent a solid chunk of time studying the ins-and-outs of teacher evaluation with some real heavyweights including Linda Darling-Hammond, Jennifer Jennings, and Tom Kane.

Then, they offered a series of policy suggestions to Colorado legislators on ways in which the Ensuring Quality Instruction Through Educator Effectiveness Act—statewide legislation that requires student growth to count for at least 50% of a teacher’s annual evaluation—can be implemented effectively at the school level. 

My first reaction to the report is a great big HOO-RAH.

The way I figure, it’s about time that teachers asserted themselves when it comes to the choices being made that govern our profession. 

After all, I haven’t met a legislator yet who has any idea what schools are really like, so spoon-feeding a bit of classroom truth to those who are crafting policies that will impact the lives of our nation’s kids CAN’T be a bad thing.

Overall, the report is brilliant.  Perhaps most importantly, the DNMI team make it perfectly clear that comprehensive teacher evaluation policies are a heck of a lot more complicated than most political blowhards think.

Specifically, they point to four areas that are going to need to be addressed before Colorado’s teacher evaluation policy will pay any real dividends for students. 

They are:

  • Developing meaningful measures of student growth, including in nontested areas.
  • Defining qualifications and training for evaluators.
  • Determining how to account for school conditions and student factors in a teacher’s evaluation.
  • Designing an evaluation system that informs both employment decisions and professional growth and learning.

That’s good stuff, isn’t it? 

All too often, legislators whip up policies on teacher evaluation without thinking through ANY of those factors—and then act surprised when teachers push back against their half-baked plans. 

Essentially, the Denver New Millennium Initiative team is saying to their elected officials, “Your plans for holding us accountable can work.  Let us show you how.”

I like that.

The only hiccup for me comes as the DNMI team details their suggestions for developing meaningful measures of student growth that can be used in teacher evaluations. 

They rightly argue that teachers in tested subjects should be held accountable for more than just results on standardized tests—and they also argue that students should be given pre and post tests to paint an accurate picture of the gains that students make during a school year.

That’s significant simply because looking at results from year-to-year fails to take into account the impact that two months off have—positively or negatively—on a student’s academic performance.

But a part of me wonders whether teachers should ever argue for the use of standardized tests in teacher evaluations.

After all, we know:

  1. That using standardized tests as indicators in teacher evaluation policies results in more mind numbing teach-to-the-test practices.
  2. That standardized tests in their current iterations are limited at best, focusing on nothing more than the kinds of basic skills that can be measured by bubbles.
  3. That tying standardized tests to evaluations creates incentives for teachers to lie about student performance. (See: Michelle Rhee.)

NONE of those truths make schools any better for students, y’all.  And neither has nearly a decade of high-stakes standardized testing in American education.

Now, don’t get me wrong:  The DNMI team ISN’T arguing for standardized tests as a sole measure of a teacher effectiveness. 

What’s more, their report makes it perfectly clear that more complex performance assessments developed with input from practitioners are necessary if we are really serious about preparing kids for a complex and poorly defined future.

Finally, their report also makes it perfectly clear that teachers should be held accountable for developing—and measuring progress towards—two individual growth goals that are tied to their school’s improvement plans.

Both steps would be incredible improvements over the test-em-till-their-dead policies that Tea Party Nation seems set on supporting—and on shoving down our throats until we choke.

I also get that incorporating standardized testing measures in teacher evaluations might just be a non-negotiable in today’s ed policy world.  Compromise DOES matter, after all.

But I am starting to believe—along with passionate folks like Alice Mercer, Anthony Cody, and Diane Ravitch—that there are some things that just aren’t worth compromising on.

So whaddya’ think? 

Does it make sense for teachers to work within the boundaries of current education policies—accepting standardized tests while simultaneously suggesting changes to our systems for measuring student performance?

Or is it time to take off the gloves and take a stand against any attempts to tie standardized tests to high stakes evaluations for teachers OR students?

Looking forward to your replies.  This is one I’m a struggling with.

9 thoughts on “New Teacher Evaluation Models for New Millennium Teachers

  1. TeachMoore

    Some comments on the some of the comments:
    To Bill: Don’t give in to depression, and don’t give up on the general public (aka: parents and taxpayers–which includes most of us teachers). More and more parents are becoming convinced that the insanity and inhumanity that has grown around testing in too many of our schools is hurting their children in profound ways. We can collect the data we need about student performance and about curriculum without the all this unnecessary trauma and drama (more on that later).
    One reason I’m glad to see different voices and approaches coming out about what’s happening in our schools. From the Save our Schools March this summer to one-on-meetings with members of Congress and the Administration, there are many levels of action and work around these issues–and there should be.
    To LPH: The tests are high-stakes for students in many places, for example, especially at the high school level where they are often linked to whether or not a student can graduate, and this has happened to tens of thousands across states. Younger students are being retained based on these tests, and many of them do feel the pressure. Certainly, for many of the second language and disabled students who are forced to take inappropriate tests, the painful humiliation alone is high stakes enough.
    Hunter and others approach of working backwards from the assessment makes sense at the classroom level where the teacher designs both. It is distorted and invalid in most of the current contexts in large part because the tests themselves were not designed for what we are trying to measure. Here I defer to the work of people such as George Hillocks, Lloyd Bond, and the National Academies of Science.

  2. Bill Ferriter

    Oh Renee: Youve said this in such an eloquent way.
    Im probably going to make your comment its own stand-alone post.
    And Im with you completely—but my struggle is that I need my job! Taking a stand against a policy that governs my work is easier said than done.
    Whats more, Im not sure that MY stand is going to matter all that much. No one making these choices gives a damn about what teachers think. To them, were the enemy to be demonized.
    I think our only hope is to turn the opinion of the general public in the right direction—-but even thats hard to do considering the media snowball that people like the Gates Foundation seem intent on burying us in.

  3. TeachMoore

    I just read the report too, and was in the process of blogging on it when I saw your piece. My post will be up in a day or so, but you lay out the most compelling question in the teacher evaluation discussion: Where should we stand on these standardized tests. If it were just about us adults, I’d have different thoughts, but it’s the harm that’s being done to children that should make us want to stop and rethink the entire testing enterprise.
    As I’ll mention in the blog, standardized testing in various forms has been around for a long time, and when used properly and judiciously can be a useful tool for educators. The current NCLB inspired madness has taken the worst aspects of standardized testing, magnified them, and distorted the educational experiences of millions of students. As a teacher, parent, and grandparent, I feel a moral obligation to speak out against these abuses.
    Whether the tests are used for my performance evaluation is, to me, a distant second issue.

  4. crazedmummy

    I don’t have any problem with using a test as a goal. If the goal is to know the material included in the ACT, let me know. If it’s material in the Michigan test, let me know. At least there’s a goal.
    Then stay out of the way. Don’t tell me what to teach, when to teach it, how to teach it, and then tell me it’s my fault if they don’t do well on the test. Don’t refuse to give kids text books and then complain that they don’t know how to read textbooks. Don’t refuse to give them pencils and then complain that they don’t write anything (our state law requires that these items be supplied). Don’t give me kids who are 6 years behind academically and tell me to catch them up in 6 months. Not going to happen. If you are 6 years behind you will not suddenly be able to learn 6 times faster than everyone else. If you are functioning on a 5th grade level, then teaching you at an 11th grade level is not going to help you.
    I do not accept responsibility without the authority to change it. Sorry, administration, you set these kids up to fail, you need to work on helping them.

  5. LPH

    Bill, Thank you for the post. My only remarks follow from the paragraphs which include rhetoric that are not helpful in discussions about improving learning.
    High stakes testing is a poor phrase and premise. Students are not held accountable for scores on state tests so the tests are not ‘high stakes.’ Are the tests important to administrators? Yes, because school evaluations are based on them. Worse, some administrators attempt to hold teachers accountable to a test students do not take serious. But teachers fail to argue this point and accept the premise that these tests are ‘high stakes.’ They are not. Place state test scores are on transcripts and scores will rise.
    Second, teaching to a test is good lesson planning. For decades (Hunter’s work), lesson planning required the teacher to start with the test and determine essential elements to include in the lesson.
    Keep up the good work.

  6. Alicemercer

    Bill, I appreciate you giving this thought. I hope that if you ever suggested that I give something a second thought, I’d do the same.

  7. Jeff Johnson

    I think the word evaluation often gets mixed up with assessment. Surely schools need to do both, with their employees and with their students.
    Assessement is about improvement. Peer coaching, as part of the assessment process, can be powerful. Teachers mentoring other teachers is also an effective method for monitoring instruction and trying new instructional strategies.
    With younger students, it seems teachers have more built-in assessment strategies than do most teachers of older students (I base this on my own limited observations, not on definitive research). As students progress through the grades, it seems teaching focuses more on “tests” (evaluations) and less on finding out more about what students are learning, what problems they are having, looking at alternative learning styles, etc. (assessment). I think this is because curriculum becomes increasingly content-oriented in upper grades (gotta cover the material). Elementary teachers have many developmental standrds; high school teachers assign grades. As a former HS chemistry teacher, this was what I saw. I think paradigm shift is needed. Grades are important but we need to gather more information about students are actually learning and develop long-term strategies for all student learning. RtI will, I think, have positive results.
    There’s no denying that standardized, high-stakes testing is going to remain a fixture in public schools – as you pointed out Bill, this is where we are politically. I find it ironic that politicians talk endlessly about the need for accountability in public education but lack meaningful measures of accountability (and any interest in being accountable) when it comes to just about anything else. Defense budget? √ Subsidies for giant corporations? √ We are not a poor country. We just need to understand our real priorities.
    Until we do things like the Denver New Millennium Initiative team did **and** begin electing people that really want to solve problems, I’m afraid that we’re going to be mired in shallow, ineffective teacher evaluation practices in many schools.

  8. Hatcherelli

    Hi Bill,
    Thanks for taking the time to post. Your blog is always so well thought out and easy to read. I am in awe of the magnitude of all that you do…books, tweets, posts, comments.
    I am just looking through the document that we use in our school district to evaluate teachers. It is newly developed and is based on the Erikson model for evaluating teachers. Twenty four pages of rubrics and not one of the attributes of quality teaching has anything to do with standardized test scores. I believe that if you have quality teaching going on, the test scores will come naturally. It seems counter-productive to evaluate teachers based on test scores. I think if you ask kids and parents what makes a good teacher, you won’t find many that will talk about test scores. Quality teaching is mostly about relationships and caring enough about kids to want the very best for them.
    I know that you understand this based on all your stuff that I have read.
    I had the opportunity to interview some potential teacher candidates last week for our school district. Funny…during those interviews, we never talked about test scores.
    When did it become all about the scores?
    Sorry to vent, Bill. Keep up the GREAT work!

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