Teacher of the Year: There’s No Excuse for Our Poor Evaluation System

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Imagine only receiving feedback on how you are doing in your job once every three years. When you do get feedback, it is almost solely based on a single pre-scheduled hour of observation, and the highest level of performance achievable on the evaluation is “consistently meets expectations.” That is the type of evaluation I have experienced so far in my teaching career.

Is one brief observation every few years an adequate representation of my work? Would you be satisfied knowing the best you can do is to “meet expectations” instead of ever exceeding them?

I want increased accountability because I am passionate about making sure I provide the best possible education to my students, and I want to continuously improve. Self-reflection is important, but it only goes so far. To not evaluate me rigorously and regularly devalues the profession I treasure. 

In my classroom, I constantly assess student learning using multiple measures including projects, questioning, discussions, essays, quizzes, and tests. I provide students with as much feedback as possible to help them deepen their understanding of the content. The regular assessment of their knowledge is not punitive, but instead it is aimed at keying in on their strengths and weaknesses in order to advance their learning. 

I want my evaluators to invest that same amount of time in me and to effectively identify my strengths and weaknesses in order to assist me in improving my craft. To do so will only help me become a better teacher which, in turn, will help my students learn.

Teacher accountability continues to be a divisive issue in education. Unlike many professions, the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of a teacher is often difficult to quantify. While it is easy to find flaws with any measure of teacher performance, it is critical to the success of our education system, and to the success of future generations, to stay focused on the central aspect of a teacher’s job—student learning. 

If a teacher’s evaluation is based on student performance rather than growth, it becomes too easy for teachers to give up on struggling students.

I view myself as successful if I can improve the learning environment in my classroom so all students have the opportunity to deepen their understanding of Social Studies. Students enter my classroom with varying degrees of prior knowledge and skills, which is why it is vital to examine the growth of the students throughout the entire academic year and not just a final grade or single assessment at the end of the year. 

The most important reason to make teachers accountable for student growth is that it will incentivize educators working with those students at the extremes of the classroom continuum who are often neglected.

If a teacher’s evaluation is based on student performance rather than growth, it becomes too easy for teachers to give up on struggling students and to allow high-performing students to coast.

If, however, student growth is used as a measure of teacher accountability, then teachers have incentives to challenge each student to perform to their greatest potential. In turn, teachers would also have incentives to utilize formative assessments on a consistent basis so they know the performance level of each student and can then make decisions on how to best teach that student.

Too often in the current framework, data is looked at collectively and little attention is paid to the achievement of learning objectives for each student as an individual.  

In my previous career as an investment advisor, I remember being audited and having to justify why transactions were appropriate for individual clients. As a teacher, I should also face such “audits.”  I want my evaluator to ask me for evidence that each student is growing, that I am using the best educational practices to educate every student, and to give me feedback on how I can improve as an educational professional.

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