Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Learning on the Job: Teacher Evaluation Can Foster Real Growth: Evaluations of Practice Using Research-Based Standards Multiple Times throughout the Year Can Provide a Focus for Professional Development, and Feedback from Evaluations Can Encourage Self-Reflection and Meaningful Conversations Focused on Classroom Practice among Educators

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Learning on the Job: Teacher Evaluation Can Foster Real Growth: Evaluations of Practice Using Research-Based Standards Multiple Times throughout the Year Can Provide a Focus for Professional Development, and Feedback from Evaluations Can Encourage Self-Reflection and Meaningful Conversations Focused on Classroom Practice among Educators

Article excerpt

My very first teacher observation was during my first semester of student teaching in a resource room for kids with learning disabilities. I remember it well because it was traumatic. I hadn't previously met the man who came to do my observation; he was part of the college faculty in the education department but not my instructor.

As the man observed, my lesson spiraled downhill in a sort of out-of-control, catastrophic disaster of epic proportions. At least, that's what it felt like at the time. The kids totally didn't get it, and I wasn't on top of their impulsive and distractible behaviors. When he pulled me into the library so he could talk about my lesson, I knew that it hadn't gone well and as soon as he started talking, I burst into tears.

--Sarah (2011)

Sarah, a kindergarten and 1st-grade teacher, did not enjoy her first evaluation. Very few people enjoy being evaluated. While Sarah's evaluation experience was certainly not unique, there also must be many examples of positive and productive evaluation experiences. Who has had a great evaluation? Who walked away from their teacher evaluation/review thinking, "Now I'm going to be a better teacher." While this is an ambitious goal for a teacher evaluation, it doesn't seem impossible. After all, for the past five years, policy makers in several states have been reshaping teacher evaluation systems in the hopes of improving teacher quality across the board.

In the world of education policy, there is no shortage of ideas about how to fix education--from more resources to fewer resources to more equitable resource distribution. While the yellow-brick road is yet to be discovered, many policy makers, including those in the Obama administration, were drawn to the idea that improved teacher evaluation could play an important role in improving outcomes for students in the U.S.

Teacher evaluation in practice

To learn how meaningful and thorough teacher evaluation systems could actually improve teacher skills and effectiveness, we interviewed about 50 teachers and policy makers engaged in teacher evaluation reform. Specifically, we sought out two sets of educators:

* Educators with experience in a school that has adopted the TAP System, a long-standing, comprehensive school reform model; and

* Educators working in a state that actively engaged in teacher evaluation reform strategies in an effort to win the federal Race to the Top grant competition.

The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) introduced TAP: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement in 1999. In addition to TAP, NIET supports states and districts with a range of educator effectiveness strategies. TAP aims to offer career advancement and leadership opportunities for educators, a fair and transparent evaluation process linked to job-embedded professional development, and performance-based compensation. The system is built around four core elements:

* Multiple career paths;

* Ongoing applied professional growth;

* Instructionally focused accountability; and

* Performance-based compensation.

In TAP schools, skilled teachers can serve as master and mentor teachers, receiving additional compensation for providing high levels of support to career teachers and increasing instructional effectiveness across the faculty. Master and mentor teachers form a leadership team, along with administrators, to deliver school-based professional support and conduct evaluations with a high level of expertise. These master and mentor teachers lead weekly cluster group meetings where all teachers examine student data, engage in collaborative planning, and learn instructional strategies that have been field-tested in their own schools.

Most important for this study, multiple trained observers, including principals and master and mentor teachers, observe TAP teachers in classroom instruction several times a year, using the TAP Teaching Standards rubric, which examines multiple dimensions of instructional effectiveness. …

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