Teacher Evaluation Is Not Synonymous with Teacher Quality: We Should Focus on Coaching and Collaboration, Not Evaluation

By O'Donovan, Eamonn | District Administration, July-August 2011 | Go to article overview

Teacher Evaluation Is Not Synonymous with Teacher Quality: We Should Focus on Coaching and Collaboration, Not Evaluation


O'Donovan, Eamonn, District Administration


IN THE DEBATE OVER THE USE of value-added analysis of student data to evaluate teachers, there seems to have been an assumption that teacher evaluation alone is an effective way to improve teacher performance. Or at its crudest level, there is an acceptance that the use of value-added data analysis will lead school administrators to replace bad or mediocre teachers with effective teachers. One of the reasons that so many teachers are skeptical about this movement is that they realize teacher evaluation does not really make them better teachers, at least using traditional methods.

Evaluation is perhaps one way to improve teacher quality. It requires reform and is worthy of focus. However, it is not the only way and not even the best way to improve teacher quality. Teacher coaching, collaboration and mentoring are much better vehicles and are currently being used to great effect by many districts.

Evaluation Issues

Those who think that teacher evaluation is universally accepted as a method of professional dialogue that can consistently improve teacher practice miss the reality of the process in many school districts. Teacher evaluation tools are designed to pass judgment on teacher performance. Judgment is uncomfortable for many teachers, and it is difficult to build the trust needed for true change in such a scenario. Many teachers put up with the process as a necessary annoyance, but question the validity of the judgment passed by the administrator/evaluator. Minimal observations do not capture the complexity of the teaching and learning processes. Teachers question the validity of the evaluators' comments, as they know that so much of what they do can never show up in an evaluation. However, a bigger problem with teacher evaluation is that school systems may not have defined effective instruction, and so evaluators and teachers may not have a common understanding about what makes a good teacher. In the absence of this fundamental prerequisite, evaluations often become a difference of opinion, not a call to action.

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Incorrect Evaluation Usage

Some would even say that this is the very reason to use student achievement data to evaluate teachers. Data provides hard facts about the efficacy of instruction. Well, maybe.

The value-added method seeks to use data from standardized test scores to determine the value that a teacher adds to student learning and also, by extension, whether a teacher is effective or not. The methodology has been questioned, as has the usefulness of the conclusions reached about teacher performance. At the very least, the process can provide a rough guide for administrators to do some further investigation. This method certainly has some value, but it is not without detractors. It is essential to analyze student performance, as measured by student data, as one in a variety of components to make decisions about student learning. The key is in how the information from the analysis is used: Is it used to measure student progress, for which it was designed, or as a sole means for evaluating teachers, for which it was not?

There are other holes in the theory that if school administrators could just do better evaluations, students would end up with better teachers. Even if schools develop a tool that effectively identifies the worst teachers, using student data in some way, and removes them from the classroom, there is no guarantee that they would replace a poor teacher with a better one. For the most part, schools would use the same inefficient process that placed the ineffective teachers in the first place to find a replacement. The two- or three-year route to teacher tenure forces districts to be right about teacher selection almost 100 percent of the time, where in other industries, workers serve a kind of trial period or apprenticeship to achieve a 25 to 50 percent success rate.

Less Resources, Less Support

Even the best evaluation system will still result in a fairly predictable distribution of outstanding, good, average and bad teachers, a bell curve so to speak, with a sizeable number of teachers in the average range. …

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