What does an effective teacher evaluation system look like?

Thanks in large part to the research of Dr. William Sanders at the University of Tennessee, that state has been using value-added models of teacher evaluation for years. When Educational Testing Service researcher Laura Goe was a seventh-grade special education teacher in Memphis, she would receive her value-added district ranking as a simple number on a piece of paper. No explanation. No suggestions for improvement. Just a number.

At a different point in the school year, she would be observed by her supervisor. He would later provide a checklist and a description of what he saw in her classroom. No explanation. No suggestions for improvement. Just an essay.

“Neither of those activities helped my practice in any way,” Goe recalled. “Value-added was not something I could make sense of—my administrator couldn’t tell me what the number meant.”

That experience and years of research have convinced Goe that the ultimate goal of all educator evaluation should be to improve teaching and learning.

Arthur Wise, president emeritus of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education,  agreed. 

“We do not use good procedures for hiring, assigning, and building human capital of teachers once they are in our schools,” he noted.  “There is a gigantic need for improvement.”

So what has worked? What can work?

“Peer assistance and remediation systems have been found extremely effective for improving the performance of low-performing beginners or moving them out of the profession,” explained Wise, who also strongly recommended the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) as a comprehensive evaluation system.

“NBPTS was carefully designed and represents a long and sustained developmental approach. It’s a measure that’s reliable and valid, but it turns out to be pretty expensive.”

Wise compared National Board Certification to the systems found in other fields such as architecture and medicine where certificates are accepted at face value throughout the professional’s career.

“So many teachers have told me that National Board Certification is the best PD they’ve ever had and that it changed their teaching forever,” Goe added.

Unfortunately, policymakers are looking for something simpler and cheaper.

“They want a giant multiple regression equation to do the same job at a fraction of the cost,” Wise chuckled.

According to Goe, all quality evaluation systems feature these measures that help teachers grow:

  • Measures that motivate teachers to examine their own practice against specific standards
  • Measures that allow teachers to participate in or co-construct the evaluation (such as portfolios/evidence binders).
  • Measures that give teachers opportunities to discuss the results with evaluators, administrators, colleagues, teacher learning communities, mentors, coaches, etc.
  • Measures that are directly and explicitly aligned with teaching standards.
  • Measures that are aligned with professional development offerings.
  • Measures that include protocols and processes that evaluators and teachers can examine, comprehend, and discus

Believe it or not, creating these measures may be the easy part. Implementing them is another matter. “Policymakers are pushing VAM and nothing else,” Goe points out. And they are pushing for it now.

Still, an effective teacher evaluation system requires educator buy-in, research-supported measures, and the resources to support implementation of the plan. In its current form, VAM offers few if any of these features. And its final product—a score or ranking on a piece of paper—seems far removed from a teacher’s interaction with children.