A new report from Stanford University researcher Linda Darling-Hammond details what the components of a comprehensive teacher evaluation system should look like at a time when such assessments have become one of the most contentious debates in education today.
Much of the controversy swirls around the growing trend of using students’ standardized test scores over time to help assess teacher effectiveness.
This “value-added” method of assessment — which involves the use of complicated formulas that supposedly evaluate how much “value” a teacher adds to a student’s achievement — is considered unreliable and not valid by many experts, though school reformers have glommed onto it with great zeal.
Darling-Hammond’s report, entitled “Creating a Comprehensive System for Evaluating and Supporting Effective Teaching,” explains the essential components of any fair teacher evaluation system — and provides examples of where it is working.
Here are the necessary criteria she says should be part of an effective teacher-evaluation system:
1. Teacher evaluation should be based on professional teaching standards and should be sophisticated enough to assess teaching quality across the continuum of development from novice to expert teacher.
2. Evaluations should include multi-faceted evidence of teacher practice, student learning, and professional contributions that are considered in an integrated fashion, in relation to one another and to the teaching context. Any assessments used to make judgments about students’ progress should be appropriate for the specific curriculum and students the teacher teaches.
3. Evaluators should be knowledgeable about instruction and well trained in the evaluation system, including the process of how to give productive feedback and how to support ongoing learning for teachers. As often as possible, and always at critical decision-making junctures (e.g., tenure or renewal), the evaluation team should include experts in the specific teaching field.
4. Evaluation should be accompanied by useful feedback, and connected to professional development opportunities that are relevant to teachers’ goals and needs, including both formal learning opportunities and peer collaboration, observation, and coaching.
5. The evaluation system should value and encourage teacher collaboration, both in the standards and criteria that are used to assess teachers’ work, and in the way results are used to shape professional learning opportunities.
6. Expert teachers should be part of the assistance and review process for new teachers and for teachers needing extra assistance. They can provide the additional subject-specific expertise and person-power needed to ensure that intensive and effective assistance is offered and that decisions about tenure and continuation are well grounded.
7. Panels of teachers and administrators should oversee the evaluation process to ensure that it is thorough and of high quality, as well as fair and reliable. Such panels have been shown to facilitate more timely and well-grounded personnel decisions that avoid grievances and litigation. Teachers and school leaders should be involved in developing, implementing, and monitoring the system to ensure that it reflects good teaching well, that it operates effectively, that it is tied to useful learning opportunities for teachers, and that it produces valid results.
Darling-Hammond explains why using value-added models is a bad idea. She notes that they:
* are “highly unstable,” as teachers’ ratings “differ substantially from class to class and from year to year;”
* are significantly affected by differences in students — even when value-added formulas attempt to control for various factors such as prior achievement and student demographic variables.
* cannot adequately deal with the various influences on a student that could affect performance on a test, both in school and out of school — and “these matter more than the individual teacher in explaining changes in scores.”
This does not mean, however, that student achievement should not be included in a teacher evaluation system. A variety of other measures of student learning are useful in teacher evaluation, including evidence taken from classroom assessments and student science investigations, research papers or art projects.
The highly regarded Darling-Hammond directs the Stanford University Center for Opportunity Policy in Education and was the founding director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. A former president of the American Educational Research Association, Darling-Hammond focuses her research, teaching, and policy work on issues of school restructuring, teacher quality and educational equity.
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