How Do Other Countries Evaluate Teachers? Countries Known to Outpace the U.S. in Student Achievement Use a Variety of Educational and Organizational Methods, but Rarely Use the Approaches to Education Reform That We Are Promoting

By Williams, James H.; Engel, Laura C. | Phi Delta Kappan, December 2012 | Go to article overview

How Do Other Countries Evaluate Teachers? Countries Known to Outpace the U.S. in Student Achievement Use a Variety of Educational and Organizational Methods, but Rarely Use the Approaches to Education Reform That We Are Promoting


Williams, James H., Engel, Laura C., Phi Delta Kappan


Given the primary role of teachers in affecting student achievement, U.S. policy makers and reformers have increasingly focused on monitoring and evaluating teacher effectiveness by emphasizing the links to student learning outcomes. Large-scale international assessments are frequently used as base examples to justify reform. But, relatively little is known about what other countries actually do. We wonder: How do other countries evaluate teachers?

We have set out on a broad research effort, looking at whether top-performing countries use educational practices and reform initiatives in vogue in the U.S. We've compared Finland, Korea, Japan, Ontario in Canada, and Singapore, exploring in each system the role of high-stakes testing, policies used to motivate schools and teachers to improve student learning, and the organization of accountability for learning. We use Ontario because Canadian education policy is substantially decentralized to the provinces. In each area, we looked at the role of teachers and systems of teacher evaluation.

Perhaps not surprisingly, we have learned:

1. Teacher evaluation is used for both accountability and instructional improvement in most school systems. However, teacher evaluation systems are organized differently depending on the model of accountability.

2. There is a growing trend to use student test results and metrics to inform accountability for schools, principals, and teachers, instructional improvement in classrooms and schools, and reform at the system level.

3. In particular, standardized testing of students, a primary and growing component of teacher evaluation in the U.S., is generally administered and used differently in other countries.

How is teacher evaluation linked with accountability and instructional improvement?

Looking across systems, we see four primary approaches to accountability: professional, organizational, market, and parental/community. Each approach has strong implications for teacher evaluation and its use in instructional improvement.

Professional accountability results from practitioner identification with the profession and a corresponding internalized obligation to uphold, even advance, its standards. Professional accountability is enhanced by social recognition and prestige (Scribner, Cockrell, K., Cockrell, D., & Valentine, 1999). In a professional accountability mode, teacher evaluation is closely linked with professional norms and peer assessments.

Finland's teacher evaluation system is based almost entirely on professional accountability, in which teachers are accountable to each other, the school, the children, and their parents. In the early 1990s, Finland abolished the school inspection system that was in place to evaluate teachers and provide external feedback. Now, teacher evaluation is more group-based, reflective, and participatory, with the aim of creating professional learning communities among teachers and administrators (Sahlberg, 2011). Evaluation is ultimately a consultative and formative process. Principals often use their own knowledge and experience as teachers to assist teachers and help them recognize areas of strengths and improve areas of weakness. Organizational accountability exists, but its primary purpose is to coordinate and lead the professional activities of teachers rather than command and control. Poor performance in relation to professional norms violates the trust that is said to characterize the system.

Another example of professional accountability is Japan's practice of lesson study, in which teachers, new and seasoned, take turns presenting lessons that are practiced and critiqued in a group setting. This system, while certainly not the only mechanism of accountability in Japanese schools, reinforces teachers' accountability to each other according to norms of good teaching.

Organizational accountability refers to the structures, norms, incentives, and sanctions of the formal institution. …

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How Do Other Countries Evaluate Teachers? Countries Known to Outpace the U.S. in Student Achievement Use a Variety of Educational and Organizational Methods, but Rarely Use the Approaches to Education Reform That We Are Promoting
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