A Flawed System
As the Prologue shows, the experiences of Karen and Charles—and many other teachers and administrators—signal some of the pervasive problems with today's teacher evaluation systems. Though well intentioned, these systems are burdensome and not helpful for teachers who are looking to improve their practice. Nor do they assist administrators in making difficult decisions regarding teacher performance. We see six main areas of deficiency in current teacher evaluation systems.
Many evaluation systems in use today were developed in the early to mid-1970s and reflect what educators believed about teaching at that time. Current systems rely heavily on the documentation of a small number of “observable behaviors,” such as “writing the learning objectives on the board,” “smiling at students as you greet them,” and the like. Hence, Karen will be sure, in her observed lesson, to do all the things she “should” do, so Charles can check them off on his list.
This generation of evaluation systems is grounded in the conception of teaching that prevailed in the 1970s, and many are based on the work originally done by Madeline Hunter (e.g., Mastery Teaching, 1982). The research on student learning that accompanied these systems relied on the only available measures of student achievement: norm-referenced, machine-scorable, multiple-choice tests of fairly low-level knowledge. But our goals for student achievement have evolved—we are now interested in more complex learning, in problem-solving, in the application of knowledge to unfamiliar situations. Further, recent educational research, particularly on the nature of the brain and how it learns, has made it clear that we need new approaches to teaching and, therefore, to the description and evaluation of teaching.
This is not an indictment of earlier models; indeed, they represented the best of what was known at the time. Like other professions, however, education is built around a conception of practice based on current and emerging research findings; as those findings suggest new approaches, pedagogical practices must also move forward.
Therefore, because educational research has advanced over the past 25 years, and classroom