Choice in Teacher Evaluations: Performance Evaluations Have Greater Potential to Improve Instruction When Teachers Have a Choice of Evaluation Options

Article excerpt

The process of performance appraisal has long been viewed as a primary source of an organization's capacity for improvement and vitality. Formal personnel evaluation is an organizational control system that assesses whether actions taken meet organizational goals and objectives. However, informal personnel evaluation also occurs on a continuous basis by people themselves (how am I doing?) as well as supervisors and colleagues (Porter, Lawler & Hackman, 1975).

In schools, the potential for performance evaluation to improve schools is often reduced. Principals are concerned that as job demands grow increasingly intensive and complex--balancing instructional oversight and managerial responsibilities--the time they can spend in individual classrooms is limited (Pounder & Merrill, 2001).

Furthermore, an evaluation that is a "dog and pony show," resembling a performance rather than actual instruction, restricts the kinds of useful information that can be provided. Scholars confirm what principals already know: classroom observation alone does not guarantee good evaluation (Stronge & Ostrander, 1997). Instead, an overall "supportive culture of teacher appraisal and evaluation in schools" is essential (Ingvarson & Chadbourne, 1997).

How do administrators mobilize formal and informal evaluation and a school culture to facilitate information exchange among people and improve individual performance?

In 2006, we were granted permission from Superintendent Jody Dunlap and three school principals in Oxnard Union High School District to survey and interview teachers in three high schools about their system of personnel evaluation.

In this district, a standards-based evaluation system provided teachers a choice of an administrative, peer or portfolio option (Palazuelos, 2007). The idea was that offering teachers a choice of evaluation--and stressing a self-assessment component in the evaluations--might lead to improvement in different types of formal and informal appraisal and in school culture.

The evaluation system

Oxnard Union High School District is a medium-sized high school district located in an urban coastal location. The community is a mixture of multi-generation families and recent arrivals from primarily Mexico and Latin America. It has six comprehensive high schools as well as a continuation school and a community day school.

In 1998, under a previous administration, the district adopted an evaluation system based on the California Teaching Standards and its developmental continuum, a description, performance or rubrics at five levels of teacher competency (beginning, emerging, applying, integrating and innovating). The current administration is working hard to both maintain the system and improve it over time.

The evaluation system provides the teacher with three options: to be evaluated by an administrator, to be evaluated by a peer or "partner" or to use a portfolio to demonstrate teaching proficiency.

Evaluations are conducted annually for beginning teachers and once every two years for permanent staff members.

As in many districts, the personnel evaluation system features a "clinical supervision cycle," which includes:

1. a planning conference;

2. classroom observation(s); and

3. a feedback conference designed to provide teachers with feedback on the quality of their instruction.

Under the first two evaluation options, the evaluator--typically a principal or assistant principal or the partner--meets with the teacher prior to the classroom observation to discuss the goals and objectives of the lesson, as well as "areas of investigation" on which the teacher wants to focus.

As part of the evaluation, teachers use these areas of investigation to devote attention throughout the year. The administrator schedules and conducts the classroom observation, and then a post-observation conference during which the teacher to be evaluated is provided with feedback for improving instruction and performance. …