Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Problem of Evaluation

The Education Optimists dicsuss a recent New York Times editorial that discusses how an HR system for teachers in which the evaluative tool never really finds even a semi-normal distribution teacher quality.
I am happy to see the Times's expansive take on this issue, not focusing purely on firing ineffective teachers, but also talking about better training of school administrators, rewarding teaching excellence, and access to better quality professional development to improve classroom practice across the board. That said, the teacher evaluation process needs a complete overhaul to serve a real purpose for both teachers and students.


In a related story, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports ("Ackerman vows tighter teacher standards") that just 13 of 10,700 Philadelphia teachers district-wide received an "unsatisfactory" evaluation last year. It is simply not possible in any human resources system -- assuming the existence of an honest, useful and properly weighted evaluation instrument (which clearly is not the case here) -- that only 0.12% of employees are performing unsatisfactorily. And, not that it is all the teachers' fault, but this in a school district in its sixth year of corrective action! This just further highlights the problem. Teacher evaluations are neither providing informative feedback to educators to help them improve nor are they holding truly ineffective educators accountable for either improving their performance or moving onto something else. (link omitted)
This is a problem in nearly all professional evaluations. I have experienced, as a supervisor, to make sure everyone got a decent evaluation. The evaluative tool I had to use measure everyone on a 1-5 scale in a large variety of topics. Now in my "insane" world, I figured that everyone started at an average of 3. If they did what was expected of them, no more no less, the evaluation was 3 in a given item. If the person did more than was expected, they got a higher mark and the opposite was true as well.

While I had some very good workers, more so that poor workers, I think my 20 person section ended up with a composite evaluative score of around 3.5 or so, which I figured was good. The problem was that my supervisors thought I had been too harsh and I was asked to re-evaluate so that he composite score was closer to 4.

Teacher evaluation are likewise similar. In addition to the difficult of simply evaluating teachers, the fact that such a small percentage of people are performing unsatisfactorily is not a problem of teachers, but of tools.

We do need to think long and hard to find a better way of evaluating teachers and teaching the evaluators themselves.

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