How to Fix the Mess with Teacher Evaluation

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Using student test scores to evaluate teachers is harmful to them and to their students.  It’s a simplistic approach to a complex, but not insurmountable problem.  The knowledge we need to improve teaching is readily available.  We can find it in successful schools and from teachers, as well as from research.  What is lacking, is the will and commitment to seek this knowledge.

In 2009, there were 15 states that required test results as one component of teacher evaluation.  By 2015, that number jumped to 43 states. So what is the rationale for this?  The intent is to pressure teachers whose students are not performing well to improve their teaching, or failing to do so, be forced from the classroom.  But the assumptions behind this approach are false:

ASSUMPTION #1  —  We know how to link teacher performance, student learning and test scores.

Actually, we don’t know how to do this.  About 95% of educational researchers dispute this assumption.  They believe the approach of value added models or VAM, is not reliable or valid.  How can a system be valid when teachers who score high one year, score low the following year?  Might not other factors contribute to test results, such as: student characteristics, a new curriculum or the validity of the tests?

SUGGESTIONS:

  1.  Insure that students are assigned to teachers using a randomized approach that allows a fair comparison between teachers whenever that need arises.

  2. Analyze test scores over a 3 year period, rather than yearly; searching for patterns in performance.

  3. Teachers who are identified as falling below the average of their grade level, receive assistance in the form of: professional development, coaching and opportunities to watch other teachers’ lessons.

ASSUMPTION 2 — Using test scores to motivate teachers to improve their teaching is a valid approach.

A consensus of studies appears to agree with the following statement; “There is also little or no evidence for the claim that teachers will be more motivated to improve student learning if teachers are evaluated or monetarily rewarded for student test score gains.” ERIC: ED516803

The above assumption is based upon Theory X of human motivation discussed in my last post.

A number of national polls reveal that teachers feel that they are under unprecedented stress by the focus placed upon them by policy makers. Network for Public Education’s Survey

SUGGESTIONS:

  1. Create a school culture focused on strong teacher collaboration.

  2. Provide frequent opportunities for teachers to learn from each other.

  3.  Establish a teacher evaluation system based on current standards for effective teaching.

ASSUMPTION 3 — Students will benefit from VAM.

Some of the negative consequences when teachers believe that their job may depend upon test scores are:

  • testing becomes the main focus of instruction to the neglect of other subjects and activities

  • stress on students as well as teachers when test are given paramount importance

  •  temptation to cheat

SUGGESTIONS:

  1. Stop using test results to measure teacher performance.

  2. Fully engage teachers in the design and implementation of the evaluation process using the best research available.

ASSUMPTION 4 — Teachers not meeting expectations will be removed from teaching

From the limited evidence we have so far, using test results has not made much of a difference. One recent quote undermines this assumption: “The vast majority of teachers — almost all — are identified as effective or highly effective.National Council on Teacher Quality.

SUGGESTIONS:

1.  Teachers identified as in need of assistance receive a jointly created improvement plan.

2. Failure to achieve the objectives in the plan may lead to removal from teaching.

3.  Expectations and supervisor recommendations need to be clear and specific.

I hope that this post serves as a springboard for discussion to reduce teacher and administrator stress under the current system for teacher and principal evaluations.

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How to Fix Teacher Dissatisfaction

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70% of teachers in a 2014 Gallup study reported that they felt disengaged from their schools.  That is an astounding figure.  In this post, I explore one reason and offer suggestions for fixing this condition. This is the first in a series of  posts on this topic.  I  invite you to follow this blog and offer your comments on this urgent topic.   

ACCOUNTABILITY–ARE WE ON THE RIGHT TRACK?

$620 billion dollars was spent on education in the U.S. during the 2012-13 school year.  Politicians want to know what the public is getting in return for this spending.  This makes sense.  But if the strategies employed to insure accountability are based upon a theory of worker motivation that says teachers,

  • Have to be controlled and threatened to deliver what’s needed.

  • Need to be supervised at every step, with controls put in place.

then we may face unintended consequences that will lead to results contrary to the goals being sought.

Question for Reader

How does the above approach to accountability impact teachers?;  Students?
(Please answer on Contact Form)

 AN ALTERNATIVE APPROACH TO ACCOUNTABILITY

  • Identify for the public the specific qualities that effective teachers possess.

  • Identify for the public the instructional philosophy that all teachers are to exhibit in their classrooms.

  • Identify for the public the specific skills and knowledge that students must master.

  • Require frequent contact with parents about their child’s strengths and needs.

  • Hold superintendents and principals accountable for monitoring the above.

  • Board of Education reports progress on the above bi-annually to the public.

The above suggestions are aligned with a theory of worker motivation that believes teachers:

  • Take responsibility and are motivated to fulfill the goals they are given.

  • Seek and accept responsibility and do not need prescriptive instructions.

Under which approach to accountability is it more likely that we will  attract and retain highly intelligent and creative people to join the profession of teaching?

The question answers itself.

 Further Reading

Theory X and Theory Y
http://www.accel-team.com/human_relations/hrels_03_mcgregor.html

 

8 Mistakes to Avoid when Managing Change

change-management-21.  CORE VALUES–S’MORE VALUES

Too often, the school’s core values hang on walls around the building and become invisible.  If the vision for your school is a deserved reputation for excellence, then a laser focus on your core values is essential.  This means that all proposed changes are tightly aligned with these values.  Stayed focused on them; don’t get sidetracked!

2. ANGER TOWARD RESISTERS

Yes, some teachers are resistant to any change, but most will be supportive if their concerns are addressed. It should be expected and planned for that your staff will have legitimate concerns about the innovation.  The  following brief video looks at the Stages of Concern that teachers go through during the implementation of a new program.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7M6eQC1_8Cg&list=PL175633190530CC61

3.  IGNORE HARD CORE RESISTERS

Hard core resisters can undermine the project.  Give special attention to them.  Schedule meetings with them (individually) where you listen to their reasons for opposing the innovation.  Explain your rationale for promoting the new program, with an emphasis on the benefits to students.  See if you can come to some agreement.  At the very least, they will feel that you want their support and took the time to listen to them.  However, at some point, you might have to say, “the expectation is that all teachers will faithfully implement the program.”  Who said that the job of principal was easy?

4. IRRELEVANCE 

You just came back from a conference where you heard about a great program that will give your school lots of positive publicity.  A committee is created to further investigate the program. At a faculty meeting, you energetically announce that this PR Program will be the focus for the coming school year.  Because of your enthusiasm for this project, the staff does not challenge you.  But with many struggling  students in their classrooms; a new math curriculum to implement, how can you expect them to fully support an innovation that has little relevance to them?

5.  YOU HAVE IDEAS?  WHO KNEW?

Seeking ideas from staff sends the message that you respect them.  Its just not realistic to expect a commitment to the innovation if the people tasked with implementing it, had no voice in shaping it.  And without their participation during the planning stage, how likely is it that they will fully understand it?  And finally, how likely is success?

6.  LACK OF SUPPORT

Even small changes require effort.  More significant change, such as implementing a new reading program can send some over the edge.  Support is essential during the initial implementation phase.  Ways to provide support may include: coaching, teacher-to-teacher visitations, and follow-up workshops.

7.  ALL IS GOOD

How do you know that all is fine with the new program unless a monitoring mechanism is in place?  This mechanism should include specific criteria that assesses fidelity to the program.  Make adjustments where needed.

8.  CHANGE IS NOT THAT TOUGH

Let’s recognize that the changes we made in our own lives were often difficult to make.  Change in a complex organization, like a school, is harder.  It requires a strategy like the one depicted in the diagram at the top of this post. It requires clear thinking and devotion to moving your school toward excellence.

 

4 Steps To Highly Effective Professional Development

“.  . . Several studies over the past few years have found professional development to be largely ineffective or unhelpful for teachers.”  Hechingereport.  Just think of all the time and money consumed by PD activities each year with such disappointing results.  This is tragic, especially because we have the knowledge to significantly improve teacher training.  But this knowledge is rarely used.  This post applies this knowledge in mapping out 4 steps that will lead to an effective professional development program for your school.

1. ARE THEY READY

This step is often overlooked.  Someone comes up with a idea for PD and a decision is made to focus on that topic for the year.  A top down approach to teacher training rarely works.  If you want teachers’ commitment then they need to be included at the beginning of the project.  To obtain teacher support for the PD program they must believe that it is relevant to their teaching and will benefit their students.  This may take time to accomplish, but it pays off in the end.   It’s important to take the time to get staff buy-in to whatever teacher training is being proposed.  Working with your leadership team, you might review formal and informal assessment data that will give rise to a consensus as to the school’s priority for the next school year(s).

2.  WHAT’S THE PLAN

Here are questions that provide focus to create an effective plan:

*  What is the length of time it will take to fully implement this plan?

*   What is the schedule of activities needed for effective implementation?

*  Who will do the training? Inside or outside presenters?

* What support will be provided to staff during the implementation phase?

* What materials and monies are needed?

*  How will the project be evaluated?

3.  MOVING IT FORWARD

The training begins and at some point the staff is expected to implement new skills and knowledge into their classroom lessons.  Some teachers will take to the new program like fish to water.  Others will have more problems translating strategies discussed in the workshop to the classroom.  At this initial stage of implementation, it is vital to reduce teacher fears of inadequacy and being judged by their peers or the school administration. Coaching and peer support become essential to the success of adoption by all teachers involved in this PD.  One option is to establish a visitation schedule where teachers observe their colleagues who are successfully implementing the new approach to teaching.

Other ways of follow-up to the initial training can take the form of: additional workshops; discussions at faculty and other meetings; and informal chats with the principal.  Quick anonymous surveys eliciting  feedback and suggestions from teachers with appropriate responses from the leadership team can help lead to needed mid-course corrections.  At some point in this stage, a written school-wide agreement as to what the new program will look like in every classroom should be drafted.  This agreement is negotiable, but the essence of the new program must be retained in the agreement.  It commits every staff member to follow the new guidelines.

Finally, congratulate the staff for their hard work and the success they have had in implementing the PD program.

4.  SUSTAINABILITY

One of the most difficult questions facing school principals is how to maintain effective programs over time.  Say that you’ve done Steps 1, 2 and 3 to a tee; what will this program look like in 5 years? Will it have been watered down? or become non-existent.  Here are some ways to sustain the program that you and your staff worked so hard to implement:

  •  Booster Shots– in the years following  implementation, provide a couple of mini-workshops on the topic
  • Review the written agreement early in the school year with all staff and  at new staff at orientation sessions
  • Periodically email readings to staff about the topic
  • Provide coaching for new staff as they implement the program
  • Include it as part of the teacher evaluation process.

The above is not theoretical.  It is based upon real-life experiences that made my staff and me proud of ourselves and our school.

Add your insights into the topic of effective staff development in the Comment section.  Let’s start a true community of learners on issues related to school  improvement.

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Thanks always.

Further Reading:

http://www.ascd.org/ASCD/pdf/journals/ed_lead/el_198210_wood.pdf