Executive Perspective                                 Page 43


The Mismatched Application

of Evaluation  


 Daniel Domenech

When was it that building administrators forgot how to evaluate teachers? At what point did teacher development take a backseat to collecting evidence that might lead to dismissal? Is there really a failure to identify instructionally incompetent teachers that now requires school districts follow an extensive and costly process to comply with state and federal demands?

When critics point to our schools’ less-than-stellar performance on international tests, rarely do they consider how the leading nations obtain their results. The professional development of teachers plays a significant role in their success. None of the leading nations engages in evaluating teachers based on their students’ standardized test performance.

I never encountered a school administrator opposed to evaluating teaching performance. Most principals I worked with could easily differentiate between their talented and their weak performers.

During my early years as a superintendent on Long Island, when I was still teaching education research courses at the graduate level, I asked my principals to rank order their teaching staff from least to most competent. I then correlated their rankings with the end-of-year evaluation reports they had done for their staff and found a strong correlation between their reports and their rankings. My principals knew their teachers. I did, as well. I could walk into a classroom and within 10 minutes provide a fairly accurate assessment of the teacher’s ability. I bet most readers could, too.

Diagnostic Purposes
A comprehensive teacher-evaluation process should not be established for the purpose of retaining or dismissing a teacher. An effective process provides the diagnostic information that allows the administrator to develop the teacher’s ability so students will benefit from the enhanced skills. Unfortunately, the teacher evaluation process has followed the same path as student evaluation in our never-ending quest for greater accountability.

Once upon a time, testing in the classroom was a means of assessing student strengths and weaknesses to better inform instruction. Now wholesale standardized, fill-in-the-bubble testing of all of our students at every grade is done annually, not to benefit those being tested but to hold the system accountable.

Unfortunately, the results of such large-scale testing do not take into account the host of extraneous variables, such as poverty, health, family issues, the learning environment and other factors that we know affect the results. Nevertheless, we castigate low-performing schools in inner-city ghettos and praise well-funded charters with exemptions from regulations for their excellent performance.

Now, by adding insult to injury, we propose that teachers be evaluated using the same invalid, unreliable data provided by the standardized test scores that were never meant to apply to the individual, only to a substantial group. Last November, The New York Times carried a story by Michael Winerip titled “In Tennessee, Following the Rules for Evaluations Off a Cliff.” Winerip relates the frustration that Will Shelton, principal of Blackman Middle School in Murfreesboro, Tenn., is enduring with the new teacher-evaluation process. It is an interesting and ironic account because it was William Sanders’ research on value-added measures in Tennessee that brought to light the cumulative impact of poor teaching on a student’s academic career. Undoubtedly, this body of work influenced the current evaluation-by-test-score agenda.

Mismatches Abound
Now, thanks to being one of the first two states to win Race to the Top money, Tennessee requires that teachers be evaluated by making use of student test scores. Shelton echoes the frustration I hear from superintendents in my travels nationwide. Money and human resources often are spent on a process that has yet to show an impact on higher achievement. There are no student test scores with which to evaluate more than half of the teachers in our schools who do not teach reading or math. Winerip writes that in Tennessee “math specialists can be evaluated by their school’s English scores and music teachers by the school’s writing scores.”

A report by the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education and AASA, “Mismatches in Race to the Top Limit Educational Improvement,” points out that RTTT policies fall short on encouraging teacher development by focusing heavily on teacher evaluation systems based on student test scores rather than using assessments to improve instruction.

Let us place the emphasis back on teacher development by making good use of the evaluation processes that have been developed and drop the witch hunt for “bad” teachers. We already know who they are. Removing them is a legal and contractual issue, not a pedagogical one.

Daniel Domenech is AASA executive director. E-mail: ddomenech@aasa.org. Twitter: @AASADan 


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