Teacher Effectiveness and Evaluations

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October 10, 2016 by Good Teachers Work Hard

Just as we measure student achievement utilizing standardized test scores, teachers are also scrutinized by said test scores. Low student achievement in standardized tests automatically equates to poor pedagogical skills, right? If students don’t score well, teachers must be to blame. It’s a natural correlation, but one that is severely lacking in common sense.

Many people have compared this logic of holding teachers accountable for student test scores to that of a doctor whose patient dies. Is the doctor to blame? Sometimes, but there are other mitigating factors that affect a patient. For example, if an asthma patient dies, is the pulmonologist to blame for the death, even if the patient refused to stop smoking at the urgency of the doctor? If someone dies of a heart attack, is the doctor at fault, even if the patient continued to eat a high-fat diet with reckless abandon? Then are teachers to blame when a student fails a standardized test, even if the student is homeless, or if the student has to babysit, feed, and provide homework help to  a myriad of younger siblings while the parents work 2nd shift jobs, or if the parents are drug addicts who don’t bother to come home? What if a student is capable of doing great things, but chooses to not study because they are compelled to follow their gang members after school and well into the evening hours? If you still believe these problems are not happening all across America, I’m going to politely ask that you remove your blinders and get your head out of the sand.

Since the introduction of Common Core, many school districts have chosen to utilize the Charlotte Danielson method of teacher evaluation. This appraisal was designed to add depth to the evaluation process by adding additional areas of analysis while forcing administrators to provide solid evidence of observed behaviors. Basically, it meant that every teacher’s actions would now be scrutinized by their principals during the one class period that was being evaluated. You can read more about the Danielson framework here.

Here are my issues with this process:

  • Teachers are evaluated for one class period, which is scheduled in advance by the administration and the teacher. How can anyone believe this is an accurate measurement of a teacher’s skills?
  • Bias is inevitable. Some teachers play the game well, others don’t. If you’re a teacher, you know exactly what I mean. Some teachers hang around the main office and chat it up with the principals, while others avoid that scene and get down to business. Do you truly believe that administrators will judge their happy hour friends on the same level as a mere acquaintance?
  • No evaluation can effectively measure intrinsic values of a teacher, such as empathy, caring, fairness, honesty, respect, courage, tenacity, and the ability to provide a safe environment (free of bullying, name calling, etc.).
  • Charlotte Danielson has made millions of dollars over the last few years, providing her evaluation tools to school districts. In a recent (April 2016) commentary published in Education Week, Charlotte Danielson now acknowledges that there is “little consensus on how the profession should define “good teaching.”” You can read the story here. So she made her millions and now decides that perhaps there is more to teacher evaluations than even she first believed. Very interesting.

My opinion? I don’t believe standardized testing effectively measures a student’s level of intelligence. Additionally, I don’t accept the notion that teacher evaluations measure the overall capabilities of a teacher. Is there some glimmer of the truth revealed by both types of measurements? Possibly. So should we continue to use these tools? As long as millions of dollars are being funneled away from students to pay for substandard measurement tools, my answer is no.

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