Posts Tagged 'teacher evaluation'

Drop Educator Effectiveness: an Exercise in Common Sense

By Claudia Felske – If you lose 50 pounds, do you buy some new clothes you’ll look great in, or walk around in saggy, baggy old ones?

If you finally pay off your car, do you spend that money elsewhere, or do you keep sending in that $500 check every month?  

If your engagement is broken off, do you move on, or do you spend the rest of your life sitting in your wedding dress in front of your uneaten wedding cake, Miss Havisham style?

If you’re driving to Disney for a family vacation, do you stop when you reach Orlando, or do you keep going because there’s still gas in the tank?  

If the federal government revokes Educator Effectiveness (an ineffective, time-consuming mandate that makes teachers feel like dogs chasing their own tails) do you revoke it at the state level as well, or do you keep it in place because, well, it’s in place?

So, here’s the thing. As you may have guessed, this last hypothetical is not a hypothetical.

In December, the United States Congress reauthorized No Child Left Behind Act (now called the Every Student Succeeds Act). The re-authorization includes revoking the federal mandate for the Educator Effectiveness System.  Yet, thanks to Wisconsin legislators, this highly problematic initiative remains law in the State of Wisconsin.no-nonsense

My question (and I believe the question of many Wisconsin educators) is: Why not buy new clothes, stop sending in extra car payments, take the wedding dress off, stop in Orlando, and why not bow out of a failing Educator Effectiveness System, which yields negligible results and diverts enormous amounts of time and resources that could be better spent in Wisconsin schools?  

Anything less is nonsense.

Acknowledging the Struggle of Everyday Teaching

teaching (1).jpgBy Nick McDaniels – Often today, as teachers, we are forced to mask our struggles.  In fact, if we make our struggles public, our evaluation could be lowered, our paycheck could be reduced, not to mention the effects on our pride.  As a result, we isolate ourselves, close our doors, and tell our bosses and colleagues that everything is going fine, because, as long as they think so, they may not peak in the door to see what is really happening.  The culture of high-stakes evaluation has created this isolationism among teachers.

So let me be honest with you about my struggles, perhaps at considerable risk to my reputation as a “good teacher.” I love my job.  My job is very challenging.  Everyday, at least one of my three lessons falls flat.  Everyday, I struggle with classroom management.  Everyday, I struggle to stay on top of paperwork.  Everyday, I have a negative interaction with a student.  Everyday, I feel like someone out there has to be better at this job than I am.

And I, whether I deserve it or not, am thought of as successful in this profession.  Feel better?

The work is challenging.  That’s why we do it.  We should be proud of how challenging it is and be willing to acknowledge our struggles.  Cultures of high-stakes evaluation have killed our willingness to be honest with ourselves and each other and it is the forcing of everyday realities into the shadows that prevents meaningful teacher- and student-driven reform from happening in our country.

The more we pretend that everything is fine in order to protect ourselves from lower evaluations, the more we fail to acknowledge that if it is hard for us, it is hard for the kids–only the effects on the kids will amplify throughout their lives.

I encourage you this week, to acknowledge your daily struggles, your weaknesses as a teacher, and to share them with someone else.  If we continue to shoulder these burdens alone, our system of education will deteriorate to the point where the countless successes I could write about to parallel this post would be reduced to near zero.  At that point, what are we struggling for?

Teaching and the Consequences of Self-Evaluation

Tso_Kiagar_Lake_Ladakh.jpgBy Nick Rocha – Teaching within our current educational system often involves a great deal of autonomy, emotional competency, and a passion to build and sustain an organized learning environment.  One element that is often unique and challenging to teachers (as compared to other professions) is how to effectively evaluate their instruction and methodology.  A typical classroom houses one teacher; peer educators are conducting classes at the same time and usually cannot observe other classrooms.  How might self-evaluation pose some significant challenges to improving on lessons and classroom management? What can be done to minimize bias?

It is appropriate to define what self-evaluation means in this particular context.  When a teacher completes a lesson, how do they know if the lesson was engaging or valuable for the students? Many teachers utilize self-evaluation techniques to address this question.  They will often reflect on whether students were attentive, if students asked questions pertaining to the materials covered, or if they looked dazed or confused.  It is hard to engage critical evaluation through self-reflection because our own assumptions might influence how we choose to evaluate our style and techniques.

If teachers plan to reflect on their experiences within the classroom, they should first create a list of the learning objectives and outcomes that they want to cover before the lesson.  That way they can reflect on whether or not they have achieved their objectives for the class period and if not, what they could do to address the situation. The process of critical evaluation should occur as a regular routine so that you can measure progress over the week and the semester.

Collecting information from students is another way to obtain evaluation without teacher biases.  Teachers can administer a questionnaire about the course and instruction to their students and ask for an honest review of the class thus far.  I would argue that students’ responses should be anonymous so that they feel that their feedback will not affect their relationship with the instructor.  If teachers design the evaluation using the Likert-scale and use the same evaluation questions throughout the semester, it might provide an extremely valuable insight into the teacher’s techniques and course material throughout the semester (and how it might have changed).

If teachers desire a more insightful evaluation of their teaching, they can also ask a fellow teacher to conduct a group interview after class or after school to ask the students specifically about the class and the facilitator.  This can be voluntary, but it is important to make sure that class demographics are being represented through the small interview group.  Small group sessions are a strong alternative to the questionnaire approach if most students are likely to put down limited responses on their evaluations.

It is fairly difficult to self-evaluate your own teaching methods and classroom management skills.  Since teachers work mainly by themselves in the classroom, finding ways to measure attentiveness or student engagement is vital for self-evaluation and improvement.  Allowing students to be open and honest with their critiques might be scary at first, but measuring how teachers grow over a certain period of time can be a truly gratifying experience.

Tso_Kiagar_Lake_Ladakh.jpg

The Classic Bait and Switch: Performance and Pay for Teachers

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By Nick McDaniels — A little over a month ago, I was honored by Baltimore City Public Schools for being a finalist for the district’s teacher of the year award.

Two weeks ago, I was a told that the same performance that got me a chance to be on the field for the first pitch of a Baltimore Orioles game was not enough to earn me a highly effective rating, which in turn, denies me a pay raise.

How could this be? Simple. The teacher evaluation rating system was changed at the last minute.

Based on the evaluation system that we were operating under all year, teachers receiving an overall evaluation score of 80 or above were highly effective, teachers receiving scores between 60 and 79 were effective, teachers receiving scores between 46 and 59 were developing, and teachers receiving scores below 46 were ineffective. These scores were to be tabulated from a variety of measures, including classroom observations, student surveys, test score data, and others.

A week before evaluations had to be completed, the district made two distinct changes:

  1. Evaluations would now be made up of 85% scores from two classroom observations and 15% scores from professional expectations.
  2. The cut scores dividing the levels were shifted to 86%, 72% and 60% respectively.

So what did this mean for me, a finalist for Baltimore City’s teacher of the year? 84% Effective.

In April I would have been Highly Effective; but,  in May, I was only Effective.

But here’s the rub. A Highly Effective gets a teacher 12 Achievement Units, an Effective only gets a teacher 9 Achievement Units, while a Developing only gets a teacher 3 Achievement Units.

Guess how many it takes for a teacher to get a pay raise? 12 Achievement Units.

Out the window goes my raise.

We rallied as a union — The Baltimore Teachers Union, hundreds of us —  in front of school headquarters to let the management know that such an unnegotiated bait and switch change to the evaluation was (at best) a failure to bargain in good faith and (quite possibly) a breach of contract. In response, the Interim CEO of the District claims that changing the cut scores back to their original levels would cause 97% of the teachers in the district to be rated Highly Effective or Effective.

She claims that isn’t fair to kids.

Shouldn’t an urban superintendent want more Highly Effective and Effective teachers in front of students? I certainly would. Should urban superintendents set thresholds on how many teachers can achieve certain ratings. I don’t think so. If so, what then is the incentive for success if 100% of teachers cannot actually work to attain the highest level of proficiency. These comments tell me this effort is solely about money, saving money for the district, and the teachers, our morale, our pride are simply collateral damage.

Maybe the scores are not the right cut scores. Maybe 86% and 72% are more accurate. But a school district cannot change the scores at the end of the game. This is akin to moving the fences back in the top the ninth inning, or narrowing the visiting team’s goals posts in the fourth quarter. We wouldn’t tolerate such changes in sports, how can we tolerate such changes for american workers.

The teachers will win this fight ultimately, and in the process we will learn that pay-for-performance is a trick, a tool for the managers to manipulate the system, and a power that teachers should resist handing over at all costs.

You Can’t Fatten a Pig by Weighing It: Assessment and the Future of Teacher Education

By Peggy Wuenstel — How many times following the game do the Monday morning quarterbacks remark that “the score just doesn’t tell the whole story?”

I know what I have used a football analogy before, but hey, we’re in Packer Country.

Many of Wisconsin’s educators are currently buried in the annual WKCE testing window, where we generate the test scores that are used to evaluate our state’s children and public schools. Good teachers and effective schools understand that accountability is a way to showcase the great things we do for children. It also helps the general public to understand how much goes on daily in our public schools.

We can improve measures of student success and ensure that they are not used to rank order school districts, cities, or administrations, but to find models of excellence that can be emulated. We can remember that the goal of assessment is to drive instruction, and use the information we gather to assist students as individuals not as cohort or disaggregated groups. This is especially critical for special education students, who by the definitions by which they qualify for services, will have difficulty reaching proficiency levels on standardized measures.

But sadly, that often doesn’t appear to be what people want to know when we test students. With new legislation making its way through the Wisconsin State Assembly and Senate, teachers have new worries. How will these test scores be used to evaluate our performance as educators?

Most educators I know are proud of what they do and the results they measure. We know that the relationship between teacher and student is key to educational success, keeping kids in school, and attainment of future goals,  but how to we measure this?

If test scores drive teacher evaluation systems and if our livelihood depends on the numbers, how will that force us to change? Teachers who willingly take on the challenge of the most difficult students to reach, those challenged by poverty, low parent participation levels, English Language Learner needs, transience, and poorly funded and managed schools will be penalized for their commitment when students “underperform” on standardized measures. How can we measure commitment, innovative teaching practices, empathy, courage and optimism in the face of overwhelming odds? Continue reading ‘You Can’t Fatten a Pig by Weighing It: Assessment and the Future of Teacher Education’

Ten Brain-Baffling Questions about Evaluating Teacher Effectiveness

By Bill Henk — Let me begin with a confession.  It would be very rare for me to admit being stumped by a question about teaching and learning.  Usually I have at least a rough idea of how to respond or can manage to offer a respectable opinion.  My experiences working in schools and my professional training have made those “educated” guesses possible.  

But there have been several nagging questions about the dynamic between teachers and learners that have been gnawing at me, and frankly, I’m perplexed.  If you can answer any of these questions, all of which center on the theme of teacher effectiveness, then be my guest.  Seriously.  They appear near the end of the post, and I’d honestly appreciate knowing  how others would react to them.  

Continue reading ‘Ten Brain-Baffling Questions about Evaluating Teacher Effectiveness’


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