Whose Teacher Evaluation to Believe? Principals' Assessments, Student Scores Sometimes Give Contrasting Pictures

Article excerpt

Byline: Denise Smith Amos

There are two sides to teacher evaluations in Florida.

About half the evaluation comes from principals watching teachers in the classroom, grading them on how well they encourage student learning and high-level thinking.

And half is based on numbers, student scores on statewide FCAT exams and other tests, along with a sophisticated algorithm called value-added that is supposed to measure students' academic growth on tests and how much of a hand their teacher had in it.

Both these parts of teacher evaluations are supposed to mesh - so teachers who score high in classroom observations should also earn high points for student test scores and vice versa.

But that didn't happen in Duval County last year, according to recently released data.

In evaluations in some subjects and grades, Duval teachers received much higher marks from principals observing them than they received from student test score performance. In some cases, the difference was stark.

For instance, the average Duval high school social studies teacher earned twice as many points from principals who observed their classes than from student growth on test scores - 62.6 points vs. 31.5 points on a100-point scale.

Big gaps also stood out for high school math teachers and high school reading teachers. Principals graded them, on average, about 60 percent higher than the same teachers earned via student testing gains.

What is out of whack? Principal observations or student testing numbers? Both, says Superintendent Nikolai Vitti.

He said Duval's principals and assistant principals are being trained now in evaluation strategies, to equip them to better recognize and reward teachers for rigorous instruction and to point out where teachers can improve. Things will get better.

"We have to refine the eye of the evaluators," Vitti said. "I'm not saying I want to see lower [teacher evaluation] scores. But as the student assessments improve and the instructional eye of our principals improve, we should see better parity" in teacher evaluations.

A NATIONAL ISSUE

Duval wasn't the only district with this challenge. National education experts said that as more states tie teacher evaluations to student test scores, the contrasting glowing principal observations are drawing greater scrutiny.

About 41 states have passed laws tying student test scores to teacher evaluations. Proponents say it's about time student testing gains counter the long-running tradition of favorable teacher evaluations from principals, who can be influenced by their relationships with teachers.

"I would be willing to wager that observation scores will always be higher than the testing scores," said Kathy Christie, vice president of knowledge/information management at Education Commission of the States, a national policy group. "That's one of the reasons states are talking about getting outsiders doing the observing."

But others say principal observations may be a more realistic picture of teacher work, because observations can occur several times a year and teachers learn early what they need to improve and can get coaching or training, so it's not surprising if by the end of the year they score higher, said Terrie Brady, president of the Duval teachers union.

All First Coast school districts reported recently that nearly all of their teachers were effective or highly effective. But in the region only Duval reported sizable variations between principal observation scores and student test performances.

St. Johns officials said they didn't do as detailed an analysis as Duval did, but they did compare average teacher scores and found them to be nearly equal on both sides of the evaluation.

"This data pleases me because that means there's consistency between the growth in the children and what principals see when they walk into the classroom," said Joseph Joyner, St. …