A middle school teacher I admired for her innovation pulled me aside once to tell me she was leaving the district. Her tendency to stray from the script put her at odds with the new principal.
When I shared the news later with a neighbor, an educator herself, her reaction shocked me: “Good riddance. My son never knew what was going on in that class because the teacher was always going off on a tangent.”
I learned a lesson. What’s outside-the-box teaching to one parent may be a crate of goo to the next.
Through having twins — one with a penchant for flights of fancy, the other with feet firmly planted on the ground — I have seen firsthand that personality plays a role in how well a student relates to a teacher. My son prefers strict standards, frequent quizzes and no projects that demand glue, poster boards or costumes. My daughter likes personal journals, classes that meander and any event that requires wearing a hat.
That’s why I regard promises of objective teacher evaluations with skepticism. Can teaching be reduced to a checklist of good and bad practices?
Georgia is in the midst of rolling out a new teacher evaluation system funded by the state’s $400 million Race to the Top grant. The reviews will consider student test scores, principal observations and student surveys, and assign a rating to teachers of exemplary, proficient, developing/needs improvement or unsatisfactory.
Much of what Georgia is doing aligns with the findings of a three-year, $45 million study of effective teaching by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Released earlier this month, the final report from the Gates-funded Measures of Effective Teaching Project sought to answer the question: Are seemingly more effective teachers really better than other teachers at improving student learning, or do they simply have better students?
The foundation says that some teachers are, in fact, better at raising student achievement. And those highly effective teachers can be identified and measured by multiple classroom observations, student surveys and student growth as manifested by state test scores.
In both the Gates report and
Georgia’s new evaluations, observations of teachers in the classroom play a significant role in gauging effectiveness. But there are differences.
The Gates study found that an accurate observation rating for a teacher requires a review of two or more lessons, each scored by a different certified observer to minimize bias.
At this point, Georgia has no plans to bring in outsiders to assess teachers in action. Principals will conduct two 30-minute observation sessions of each teacher. They will also perform four 10-minute “walk-throughs” to see whether specific performance standards are being taught.
Simple math explains why teachers are dubious. Take a school with 100 teachers. A principal is supposed to observe each teacher for 100 minutes. That adds up to nearly 167 hours or more in
“It make take a culture shift, but principals have to realize that their top priority, along with ensuring their school buildings are safe, is instruction. They must make time for these teacher observations,” says Susan Andrews, Georgia Department of Education deputy superintendent for
Race To The Top implementation.
The other critical factor in assessing teacher effectiveness will be student growth in test scores. For 30 percent of Georgia teachers, those scores will come from the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests given to elementary and middle school grades and the End of Course Tests given to high school students.
But 70 percent of teachers lead classes for which there are no standardized Georgia tests, including drama, art, music and foreign languages. For these non-tested subjects, the state is developing pre tests and post tests called Student Learning Objectives.
A music teacher sent me a note about the instructional time that will likely be lost due to the pre and post assessments that will be part of the Student Learning Objectives. “I think parents would be surprised to know an additional week or more now goes to test students more,” she said.
And time is a precious commodity in Georgia, where two-thirds of districts have shortened their school years to deal with budget deficits that promise only to worsen. The state has cut $5.6 billion from k-12 funding since 2003.
Building a better teacher evaluation system won’t help anyone if it depends on time and resources that aren’t realistic.