Weighing In: Rural Iowa Principals' Perceptions of State-Mandated Teaching Evaluation Standards

Article excerpt

As the accountability movement has gained momentum, policy makers and educators have strived to strike a difficult balance between the sometimes competing demands at the local, state, and federal levels. Efforts to improve accountability and teacher evaluation have taken an especially unique route in Iowa, where local control and resistance to state mandated curricular standards have been popular topics from the statehouse to the convenience store. This research explores principals' impressions of Iowa's state-mandated standards for best-practice teaching (as opposed to state mandated curricular standards). Further, the research examined the extent to which the Iowa Teaching Standards (ITS) and accompanying Iowa Evaluator Approval Training Program (IEATP) have impacted the way teacher evaluations are conducted in the state's rural schools. Evidence indicates that most principals felt that ITS and the accompanying IEATP made them feel adequately or very well prepared to conduct teacher evaluations. In addition, 65% of respondents reported that IAETP had changed the way teachers are evaluated.

Introduction

The accountability movement in education has appeared in many forms across all levels of education. Regardless of their personal politics, K-12 educators are now actively engaged in processes they hope will meet the requirements of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation, as well as a host of accompanying requirements from state departments of education. The accountability era has even impacted the insular world of higher education, with scathing criticisms from Levine (2005) and others who point to disconnected curricula and faculty, among other problems.

The presence of sanctions for schools failing to meet required levels of performance has clearly raised the stakes. The infamous call from the movie Jerry McGuire, "show me the money" might be aptly altered in the current educational discussion to "show us the scores." Today's standards are increasingly specific in terms of expected (or required) student outcomes. Many (e.g., Danielson and McGreal, 2000; Daggett, 2005; Ravitch, 2006; Tellez, 2003; Wasley and McDiarmid, 2003) have noted how standards specify what students should know and be able to do, as well as expecting improved student test scores. Lane and Stone (2002) added that, "Most states have implemented assessment programs that are being used for high-stakes purposes such as holding schools accountable to improved instruction" (p. 24).

Higher expectations of teachers are an essential part of the call for improved student outcomes. Calls for reform of the teacher evaluation process have moved beyond political rhetoric and stump speeches that call for a qualified teacher in every classroom. For example, Henneman and Milanowski (2003,) noted that the call for higher expectations for students is coupled with calls for reform toward "standards-based teacher evaluation" (p. 174). Work by Danielson and McGreal (2000) pointed out how "standards of teaching state what teachers should know and be able to do" (p. 40). Quinn (2004) noted how improved student achievement does not stop with simply expecting more from students. Many have called for explicitly defining expectations for teachers, as well.

Iowa's rural schools enjoy a long and storied history of providing excellent educational opportunities. Included in that history is a fierce tradition of local control. While the accountability movement has prompted most other states to adopt statewide curricular standards, Iowa has resisted until recently, leaving curricular decisions to individual boards of education in more than 360 school districts scattered across 99 counties. Instead of embracing curricular mandates from the state capital, Iowa chose to adopt the 2001 Iowa Teaching Standards (ITS) as a means to define good teaching.

The Impact of Iowa Teaching Standards

The culmination of these factors created an intriguing discussion for Educational Leadership faculty at the University of Northern Iowa. …