Teachers open up about evaluations

Even prior to this particular
legislative battle, the myths and fears expressed by educators and policymakers
alike when it comes to teacher evaluations have been rampant. For example, opponents
of overhauling teacher evaluation systems argue they’re inherently unfair,
arbitrary, prone to bias, focused too much on test scores, ruin collaboration, and
create undo competition. We wondered if any of these realities were true in places
where teachers are evaluated in rigorous ways. So we reached out to DC Public
Schools, where the DC IMPACT evaluation system has been in place for two years,
and went into the field to ask teachers who are already participating in
rigorous evaluation systems what they think about these matters.

So what did they have to say? The
teachers we interviewed – which include science teachers, an elementary math
coach, a fourth-grade teacher (of all subjects), a special ed middle school
teacher, an art teacher, and a master educator (who conducts the observations
on behalf of DCPS) shared what it’s like to be evaluated via five observations
each year and have part of their performance linked to student test
scores.  Overwhelmingly, even despite some concerns expressed by several
of the teachers, common themes emerged. A binary rating systems (“satisfactory”
or “unsatisfactory”) is neither informative about which teachers are effective
and which are not, nor does it help teachers improve their practice. Even
teachers with significant concerns expressed that IMPACT correctly identifies
the worst performers and the top-flyers. And several teachers who have not yet
earned the distinction of “highly effective” said that IMPACT motivates them
daily to improve their practice.

Their responses are pretty powerful, and begin to peel back the myths and fears we’ve
heard here in the Buckeye State. Do evaluation systems like DC IMPACT water
down the art of teaching to one set of test scores on one day? No. Frequent and
unannounced observations spread out over the year, along with several other
metrics – like commitment to school community and professionalism, and student
test scores – actually capture the measures of effective teaching far better
than previous evaluation systems. Teachers in non-tested subjects, like art and
science, explained how IMPACT evaluates them fairly even though their scores
are somewhat different from those of teachers in tested grades and subject
areas. And every single teacher we interviewed could point to specific areas of
instruction that improved as a result of the feedback cycle and relationships
with master educators (who conduct the observations). In short, while IMPACT
isn’t perfect – and neither is any evaluation system out there – it’s certainly
far better than what Ohio has in place and should compel us to institute a more
meaningful system in the Buckeye State.

While IMPACT isn’t perfect – and neither is any evaluation system out there,
it’s certainly far better than what Ohio has in place and should compel us to
institute a more meaningful system in the Buckeye State.

As Ohio and other states struggle to
reach agreement on how (or if, depending on who you ask) to make teacher
policies focused on effectiveness and performance, and more conducive to attracting
the best and brightest, these are conversations that absolutely must happen. We
hope that lawmakers, policy makers, and teachers alike realize that any efforts
to improve teacher effectiveness across the state rest on our ability to
evaluate teachers and use this data to make key decisions that are in the best
interests of students.

A
version of this article originally appeared on Fordham’s blog, Flypaper.

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