Teacher evaluation: Not ready for prime time?

An early Race to the Top winner, Tennessee is requiring schools to evaluate teachers by value-added test scores and principal observations. The new evaluation system is complex, confusing and a huge time suck for principals, reports the New York Times.

Because there are no student test scores with which to evaluate over half of Tennessee’s teachers — kindergarten to third-grade teachers; art, music and vocational teachers — the state has created a bewildering set of assessment rules. Math specialists can be evaluated by their school’s English scores, music teachers by the school’s writing scores.

The state is tweaking rules to cut principals’ paperwork burden.  But principals complain it’s not enough.

. . .  (Principal Will) Shelton is required to have a pre-observation conference with each teacher (which takes 20 minutes), observe the teacher for a period (50 minutes), conduct a post-observation conference (20 minutes), and fill out a rubric with 19 variables and give teachers a score from 1 to 5 (40 minutes).

He must have copies of his evaluations ready for any visit by a county evaluator, who evaluates whether Mr. Shelton has properly evaluated the teachers.

 Shelton must observe his 65 teachers four times a year, whether they’re his best or weakest staffers.

In Florida, evaluation formulas are so complex, even the math teachers can’t figure it out.

The formula—in what is called a “value-added” model—tries to determine a teacher’s effect on a student’s FCAT performance by predicting what that student should score in a given year, and then rating the teacher on whether the student hits, misses or surpasses the mark.

But (calculus teacher Orlando) Sarduy, like thousands of other Florida teachers, doesn’t even teach a subject assessed by the FCAT. So his value-added score will not come from his math teaching or his particular students. Instead, it will be tied to the FCAT reading score of his entire school in South Dade—a notion that infuriates him, even though he appreciates the level of objectivity the new system brings, and the ways it strives to isolate a teacher’s impact on student learning.

Some performance-pay experiments have rewarded teachers and support staff for improvements in the whole school, rather than trying to measure each person’s contribution. The idea is that everydone does their bit in raising those reading scores, including the music teacher and the janitor. But when the stakes are high, people want to be rated on measures they control.  And it’s hard work to evalute teachers fairly.

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