Magazine article Technology & Learning

Rethinking Teacher Evaluations: How Technology Can Help Ease the Process

Magazine article Technology & Learning

Rethinking Teacher Evaluations: How Technology Can Help Ease the Process

Article excerpt

Whether your state administrators have asked you to tie teacher pay into student scores on standardized tests or they just want you to revamp the way you assess your instructional staff, chances are your district is well on its way to figuring out how to do it.

Florida, like many states, passed legislation in 2011 that requires districts to revise the way they evaluate and compensate their employees. "We had a teacher-evaluation system in place, but it was very subjective and very dependent on paper and pencil," says Marilyn Underwood, executive director of staff development for Marion County (FL) Public Schools. "Race to the Top and Senate Bill 736 gave us a charge to do something meaningful and quantitative with our teacher evaluation systems."

The district chose Charlotte Danielson's Framework for Teaching and then purchased Performance Matters' FASTe (www.performancematters.com), which provides an integrated student assessment, data management, and teacher evaluation platform. FASTe (Formative Action System for Teacher Effectiveness) helps teachers improve by connecting them to differentiated resources and letting them continually access their evaluations.

Thanks to Race to the Top funds, every administrator received an iPad loaded with descriptions of Danielson's Framework. Administrators use their iPads for three types of observations: formal (long, pre-planned, and teacher conferences), informal (shorter and unplanned), and walkthroughs (5- to 10-minute daily or weekly "quick hits" to check in for smaller issues).

The administrators collect data that is saved and aggregated. Teachers receive an immediate e-mail when an observation is finished and uploaded so they can see their principal's thoughts. FASTe's reporting capabilities have been a tremendous timesaver, says Underwood, particularly for providing state-required midterm evaluations of new teachers. "We can also look at trends, which is crucial for staff development. I can see if I need to do a training session on a specific topic. As a result, our professional development is more timely, more responsive to our needs, and much more effective."

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Up north, the evaluation tool of choice for the state association of public charter schools in Michigan is Teachscape's Reflect Video device. (www.teachscape.com). The Michigan Association of Public School Academies (MAPSA) used funding from the Teacher Incentive Fund. This five-year grant supports efforts to develop and implement performance-based teacher and principal compensation systems in high-need schools. MAPSA rolled out the program to 20 charter schools throughout Detroit.

Teachscape Reflect is a low-profile, lightweight device that combines two high-definition video cameras and two high-quality wireless microphones to provide a panoramic view of the classroom. It helps instructors reflect on their teaching, share instructional practices, and receive just-in-time coaching based on the Danielson Framework.

"Teachscape allows us to deliver quality feedback to help teachers hone their craft," says Brian May, vice-president of school initiatives for MAPSA. "We want to give our educators every opportunity to improve their teaching."

The charter schools conduct two formal evaluations each year (per state rule), but are encouraged to use Reflect as much as possible for peer-to-peer evaluations and walkthroughs. "We're limited in what we can do because of funding," says May. "Mentor teachers are not always available to assist a teacher, so this lets us do a video recording that the teacher and mentor can discuss during prep time or after school."

May admits that some teachers were hesitant about being videotaped, but the training that the teachers received from Teachscape allowed everyone to see the value of the device and how easy it is to use. "After we went through the first taping, people were a lot more open to sharing their videos," he says. …

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