Are Teacher Evaluations Making the Grade? from Metrics to Methodology, Our Panel of Superintendents Provides Insight on This Hot-Button Topic

By Rhor, Monica | District Administration, August 2013 | Go to article overview

Are Teacher Evaluations Making the Grade? from Metrics to Methodology, Our Panel of Superintendents Provides Insight on This Hot-Button Topic


Rhor, Monica, District Administration


Teacher evaluation may be the hottest--and most divisive--topic in education right now. From Florida to Missouri and Nevada to Minnesota, state legislatures are debating bills that would tie teacher assessment to student achievement. Meanwhile, school districts are revamping their systems, and superintendents are trying to balance the often-conflicting demands of teachers, unions, state-imposed rules, and good educational practice.

The push to update teacher evaluation models has been driven by the education reform movement and the financial incentives in the Obama administration's Race to the Top. Traditional systems that rely heavily on classroom observation are giving way to ones that place greater weight on student test scores.

Those changes worry many educators who say that standardized test scores don't accurately measure teacher proficiency. Others say traditional teacher evaluation systems often fall short, leaving failing teachers in the classroom.

For insight, District Administration convened a virtual roundtable of school superintendents, all members of the District Administration Leadership Institute.

What were the most important factors you considered in creating your current teacher evaluation system?

Andrew Dolloff, Maine Regional School

Unit 21 in Kennebunk, Maine

Our current system was created with one goal in mind: to improve instruction. We view teacher evaluation as the single most effective way to accomplish the goal. The only factor that seems to be different now is the drive to use student performance data in teacher evaluations.

The need to properly supervise and evaluate staff as a means for improving instruction has always been present.

Stephen Morley, Iowa City (Iowa)

Community School District

One of the things important to us is that we look at what we want to happen in the classroom and then design a system wherein the purpose is to improve teachers' capacity to deliver the instruction that is relevant to the students in the classroom. So ours is very much focused on what teachers know and are able to do. From that standpoint, you see that very strong focus on professional development because our goal was to make sure that those teachers are growing in their capacity to deliver the instruction that we have determined is appropriate for kids in the classroom.

What standards should be used as a guideline for evaluations: federal, state, professional organizations, local?

Ben Zunino, Eureka County

School District in Eureka, Nev.

I am in favor of local control. I believe there are some proven guidelines teachers can use in their instruction to help ensure students have the best opportunity to learn. If administrators and teachers work together to develop what excellent teaching and learning looks like it will be more effective than someone somewhere else telling them how to teach.

Stephen Morley

There are two perspectives. One is an emphasis on local control--that the more local the decision, the more relevant it is for that district, that school, that classroom. From that standpoint, you would argue that you want an evaluation system that's built in-house. On the other hand, on other end of the spectrum, clearly there's some great value in having some systemic standards--either statewide or nationwide components that allow for transferability of staff and understanding among administrators about what that type of evaluation means. One way to balance it is not unlike what we're looking at with the Common Core standards--getting some direction at the national or state level that the evaluation must include x,y,z; but with some latitude at the local level as to what those components are.

Chris Belcher, Columbia (Mo.)

Public Schools

With all the federal push and thrust and money, I don't see that we've gotten better in the urban centers. …

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