Danielson on evaluating teachers

Charlotte Danielson, who developed a respected Framework for Teaching, talks to Rick Hess about teacher evaluation. It’s easy to do evaluation badly, she says.

I was contacted early on by a large urban district in New Jersey that…had a horrible evaluation system. It was top-down and arbitrary and punitive and sort of “gotcha.” And they developed a new one based on my book, and it was top-down and arbitrary, and punitive. All they did was exchange one set of evaluative criteria for another. They did nothing to change the culture surrounding evaluation. It was very much something done to teachers, an inspection, used to penalize or punish teachers whom the principal didn’t like…

Doing evaluation well “means respecting what we know about teacher learning, which has to do with self-assessment, reflection on practice, and professional conversation,” Danielson says. It doesn’t take any longer to evaluate well than to evaluate poorly, she adds. “But it does take longer to do it well than to not do it at all.”

. . . the minute a teacher’s performance rating is a high-stakes matter, people are going to do whatever they have to do to be rated highly. And the things you have to do to be rated highly are exactly the opposite of things you’d do if you wanted to learn–you wouldn’t try anything new, you would be protective, you would be legalistic about the ratings, and you’d argue. None of that makes you open to improving your teaching. So my advice is to only make it high-stakes where you have to. If someone is on the edge of needing remediation, then that is high-stakes and you should use it. But if your main purpose is to say these 80 percent of our teachers are performing pretty well, so let’s use this process to get better, that’s a very different way of thinking.

Most of today’s teachers will be on staff five years from now, she says. Instead of focusing on getting rid of the “bad apples,” evaluators should focus on helping average teachers’ improve. (And, presumably, getting rid of the apples so bad they can’t improve.)

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  1. I went through a punitive process last year – I had the feeling that they had decided before they walked in the door what they would find, and wrote the eval to match their preconceptions. When I sat in the final meeting, at first, I protested parts that I felt weren’t correct factually. After being told, “well, that’s what I saw” each time, I decided, “whatever”, and shut up.

    BTW, there was NO attempt to let me know where I was deficient in any specific way (just very general comments), so it was useless for remediation.

    Basically, the admins were just filling in the blanks, and doing the least they could.

  2. There’s a terrific book about how to make hospitals better “Safe Patients, Smart Hospitals” It talks about the three pieces needed to succeed: 1) data –without data on what your problems are, you’ve got no way to measure success; 2) checklists–the minimal set of procedures that can be followed in the clearest manner to achieve a given goal; 3) culture: you MUST define, and redefine the culture. the culture MUST be willing to change, to take the bad experiences as places to learn rather than be punitive; to allow anyone to point out an error, even if it’s a subordinate; and have everyone be held accountable for outcomes.

    The book points out that the checklist alone is a failure–you can tell people what the right procedure is to fix some problem, but unless you figure out how to fix a culture that created that problem, your checklist compliance will be zero. Likewise, if a nurse is going to be harrassed or reprimanded or fired for pointing out an error by a doctor, then no nurse is going to implement a new checklist that goes against that doctor, etc.

    The book talks about how to achieve the cultural changes necessary to change the evaluation methods. Education is a long way from figuring this out, but starting with this book is a great place to begin to think about the processes and culture.