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Is there a difference between evaluating faculty and assessment?

November 16, 2013

Teaching to the TestThere has been a national conversation taking place about whether evaluating faculty using students achievement data is an effective practice.  Where do you stand on this question?

Ask a room full of administrators why they evaluate their faculty?  Compliance might be the first response of many administrators.  But once they put aside what they are required to do, I think we would find unanimous agreement that a process for evaluating faculty is designed to examine their effectiveness in the classroom, as well as the impact they are having on their students.  I would assume that most educators would agree with this basic idea.

The challenge with connecting student achievement data to faculty evaluation is that assessments of student learning, such as high-stakes assessments, evaluate the collective impact of a student’s learning history, the many teachers he or she has had over the course of his or her schooling, the school environments in which they were raised, their parents’ influence, resources at their disposal, and many other factors.  We think we get around this challenge by using value-added achievement data.  Does anyone really believe that value-added achievement data or any other aggregation of high-stakes assessment data will be a true reflection of how well a single teacher taught a single student or a classroom full of them.

I believe that one of the quickest ways to minimize our assessment efforts in school is to use results from these assessments to evaluate faculty.  Don’t get me wrong, I think faculty should be evaluated and the performance of students should be a variable.  However, I think the assessment data that we use should include the wealth of assessment data on achievement, behaviors, and dispositions that most teachers collect.  The achievement assessment data should include all the work of the student throughout the year, not merely the results of a student’s performance on a single high-stakes test, especially when these tests are designed to assess in a very narrow range of student learning styles.

What many states who have adopted the use of student achievement data to evaluate faculty are doing is penalizing a faculty member if his or her students do not achieve to “satisfaction.”  Again, it seems that the only fair way to use student achievement data would be to aggregate the data for a group of students and assess whether a group of teachers at a grade-level or in a discipline are successfully meeting the needs of their students.  Aggregating data based on groups of performers minimizes the influence of the variables that could impact any one student.

This conversation will be difficult to resolve, especially if educational policy makers continue to place greater value on accountability than they do student learning.  If teachers are not at the table influencing the direction of this work, then I have little hope that we will find a solution that is in the best interest of students.  My experience is that teachers are more likely to worry about student outcomes tied to learning than are educational policy makers or politicians.  We should focus our attention on building capacity within our schools not on accountability.  If we build capacity in our teachers, administrators, and schools the performance indicators will improve substantially and accountability will take care of itself.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 17, 2013 1:07 pm

    This article is a great conversation starter. As an administrator I see teachers working their butts off but how do we expect a child to perform well when they are hungry or they have no electricity at home? I would love to see testing that looks at where a student was last year and where they are this year. Then a teacher can be evaluated on if a child made gains or not while in their classroom.

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    • November 17, 2013 1:38 pm

      I think you are right about the need to know the circumstances of the child who comes to school. While we cannot control all the variables, we can use that knowledge to support the student as best as possible. You also raise a good point about following the student from one grade to the next to watch the student’s progress over time. This progress would be the impact of many teachers that the student had. I still think it’s hard to evaluate a single teacher based on how a student does in the previous year (with a different teacher) and how they do in the current year. This assumes that the curriculum from one grade to the next is well integrated and seamless. We have work to do to be sure our educational system is designed to support all students learning and giving teachers good feedback on their teaching. Teaching as a professional growth experience not as “gotcha.”

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

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  2. December 15, 2013 7:36 pm

    First off I believe measuring student achievement is a difficult task in itself. What constitutes a years or semesters worth of growth is difficult in my opinion. My reason for evaluating classroom teachers besides compliance is improvement. I would really like to video tape teachers and have them watch themselves and then watch the video with them and point out areas of great strategies and areas of improvement. We know the best teaching tool is the video tape. That is why sports teams use it on a daily basis. I would also encourage peer observations as a strategy of teacher effectiveness and improvement. I agree with the article regarding the history of the students’ education and their nurturing they had at home and their environment is very difficult to base an evaluation on these aspects. I believe we should take into account the many aspects of a students performance not just one test which for Michigan is the MME given in March. Great article.

    Mark

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    • December 15, 2013 9:12 pm

      Thanks Mark! I appreciate you reading the blog entry on evaluation. I think you raise some interesting points in your comment. Videotaping and peer-to-peer observations are two excellent strategies for helping teachers “see” themselves in action. The more aware teachers are of their own practice and the more receptive they are to constructive feedback the more likely they will follow a trajectory of improvement. At Westminster, we have new teachers who are in our mentor program videotape their classes and get feedback from the Dean of Faculty. We also employ some peer-to-peer observations as a way to break down the barriers between classes. At Drew Charter School, we use the instructional rounds process as a way for teachers to learn from one another. All of these tools are excellent ways to help faculty grow as professionals and support a school’s evaluation system.

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