Measuring Up: Moving Teacher Evaluation Systems from Measuring Teachers' Performance to Improving Their Practice Requires Much Greater Attention to Communication and Support

By Hart, Holly; Healey, Kaleen et al. | Phi Delta Kappan, May 2014 | Go to article overview

Measuring Up: Moving Teacher Evaluation Systems from Measuring Teachers' Performance to Improving Their Practice Requires Much Greater Attention to Communication and Support


Hart, Holly, Healey, Kaleen, Sporte, Susan E., Phi Delta Kappan


"Exactly what I needed."

That's how Principal Ramirez described the new teacher evaluation system her district was piloting. With training and support on using her district's framework for evaluating teacher performance, Ramirez became accustomed to using evidence to rate her teachers' practice and was enthusiastic about the system's potential for improving their instruction. (All names in this article are pseudonyms.)

"Stifling."

That's how Ramirez's teachers described the postobservation conferences that were part of the new teacher evaluation system. While teachers praised her leadership in other areas and saw immense potential in the new evaluation process, they said her approach to conferences--reciting questions directly from observation forms provided by the district and reading evidence collected during her observations--was too scripted to encourage conversations that could improve instructional practice. Ramirez acknowledged that her approach was not ideal. "I imagine I'll get better at this," she said.

How she will get better typifies the challenge facing districts as they revamp teacher evaluation systems with the dual goals of providing better measures of teacher performance and improving teacher practice. Communication and training are crucial to achieving these goals. In our work in Chicago and other Illinois school districts, we have seen districts' initial communication and training efforts largely focused on rating teacher practice. This initial focus is appropriate and necessary because reliable ratings promote trust in the evaluation system.

But reliable ratings alone won't improve teacher practice. A corresponding investment in communication about the system and its component parts and training on using postobservation conferences for teacher development will be needed. Although districts have provided substantial training on rating teacher practice, the districts we studied have typically paid less attention to the communication, training, and support required to grow this practice. As Ramirez's teachers would attest, understanding the observation framework is just a starting point for conversations about instruction. Teachers and those who evaluate them--often school administrators--need training and support to understand the system and its goals and to move beyond reviewing ratings and evidence to engage in deep discussions that promote instructional improvement.

In fall 2012, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) instituted a sweeping reform of its teacher evaluation system when it introduced REACH Students (Recognizing Educators Advancing CHicago's Students), replacing a 1970s-era checklist rubric and for the first time including a detailed classroom observation process and student growth measures into teacher evaluations. Researchers at the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research have investigated teacher evaluation reforms in Chicago and other districts in Illinois from 2008 to the present (Sartain, Stoelinga, & Brown, 2011; White, Cowhy, Stevens, & Sporte, 2012; Sporte et al., 2013). This article draws on that research to present examples of the communication and support some districts have provided for rating teacher practice, as well as areas where communication and support are crucial for moving from solely measuring teacher practice to improving it.

Communication and training on rating teacher practice is a vital precursor to improving instruction.

It makes sense that districts' initial communication and training efforts have focused on improving administrators' abilities to reliably rate classroom instruction. Rubric-based classroom observation protocols (such as the modified version of Charlotte Danielson's Framework for Teaching used in Chicago) allow administrators to provide more detailed and specific ratings of classroom instruction. This increased specificity requires training to ensure ratings are based on evidence and are aligned to what the district has determined constitutes high-quality instruction. …

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