Teacher evaluations – how to transform them from negative requirements into positive experiences

A growing body of evidence suggests that current models of teacher evaluation are not improving teacher performance and can even have a negative effect on teacher motivation and job satisfaction.

The OECD TALIS results from 2013 (we are now awaiting the results from the 2018 survey) indicate that, despite widespread teacher appraisals in Australia, 43% reported that the appraisal had little or no impact on the way they teach and 62% believed that the appraisal system had a negative impact on their job satisfaction. In another study, the Accomplished California Teacher survey (2015) found that only 26% of teachers reported that their own most recent formal evaluation was ‘useful and effective’.

Teachers report that the purpose of the appraisal seems to be more often linked to ‘formal accountabilities’ than professional growth.

They say the process is largely administrative, time consuming and burdensome; that the measures of performance are not valid indicators of a teacher’s impact; and that the model lacks resources and is unevenly implemented over time.

At the same time, we know that the teacher’s role in improving student outcomes is critical – hence why both schools and education systems have focussed heavily on evaluating the work of their teachers.

So, what is going wrong in the design phase of teacher evaluation models and how can it be improved?

I believe we need to transform teacher evaluation so that it is provided as feedback for growth, not for accountability. We shouldn’t scrap the principle, but we should use a different process.

“You have to own and grow your own model based on the design principles.”

Context and organisational culture are critical to teacher impact, so I have developed a set of design principles for school leaders to consider when planning teacher evaluation.

Based on research, these principles are designed to allow school leaders to design their own model of teacher evaluation. By doing so, they are developing a context-specific way of evaluating their own teachers, as opposed to importing someone else’s model into a foreign context.

One of these design principles is the importance of having a clear and singular purpose. Where teachers are being asked to disclose areas for professional growth, they need to have trust that they are not being judged for alternative purposes.

We also need to use teacher standards as the basis for our conversations so that we have a shared language around which we talk about teacher practices and student learning. Teacher standards also give us progression points so we can point the way for growth – enabling teachers to understand what they need to do next.

Avoiding appraisal-fatigue

Many teachers complain about the extra work associated with appraisal. We should build models around their daily work.

It is what teachers do every day – designing instruction, collective evidence of learning, etc – that really determines their impact, so that is where we should be placing our emphasis.

We also need to shift the emphasis away from attainment and achievement and on to student progression. As the Measuring Effective Teaching project concluded, focusing on national testing is ‘the most unreliable means of evaluating teachers’.

If we ask teachers to demonstrate learning that has resulted from their teaching, then we are moving towards a model of teacher and teaching impact.

In doing so, we need to collect data about student progress that is both valid and reliable, and preferably triangulated with other data sets. That way, we will give teachers agency and choice by defining those data sets that are most suited to their classrooms, whether it be in early years literacy work or a high school physics class.

Finally, we should measure the contribution of individual teachers to the collective good. We have learned that professional learning communities can add value to student achievement results (Vescio et al 2008). Hence we must move away from the privatised classroom and promote teacher collaboration to build the capacity of all teachers to be the best they can be.

However, none of this is possible without supportive and effective leadership.

These principles are just the starting point. At each school we need to support teachers to collect evidence of their impact, share it and celebrate it. That way, we can all grow and learn.

I look forward to discussing this further with teachers and school leaders at the Cambridge Schools Conference in Bali on 9-10 December, 2019!

Further reading:

Accomplished California Teachers (2015) ‘A coherent system of teacher evaluation for quality teaching.’ In Education Policy Analysis Archives, 23(17). http://dx.doi.org/10.14507/epaa.v23.2006.

OECD (2013) Teaching and Learning in Schools Survey. https://www.oecd.org/australia/TALIS-2013-country-note-Australia.pdf

Kane, T., Kerr, K. & Pianta, R. (2014) Designing Teacher Evaluation Systems. MET Project. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco

Verscio, V. Ross, D. And Adams, A (2008) ‘A review of research on the impact of professional learning communities on teaching practice and student learning’ in Teaching and Teacher Education, 21, 80-91.

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