In order to optimize student learning, we must consider what research shows makes the most difference: student placement in a classroom with a highly effective teacher. With the critical need for 21st century learning skills for all students in a changing global economy, we must overhaul old-school teacher evaluation systems. Time-intensive and ineffective evaluation tools and processes must be rebuilt to better align with effective teaching practices for student learning gains and 21st century success.
Stanford professor Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond identifies what characteristics effective teachers share that influence student learning gains:
- Understand subject matter deeply and flexibly.
- Connect what is to be learned to students' prior knowledge and experience.
- Create effective scaffolds and supports for learning.
- Use instructional strategies that help students draw connections, apply what they are learning, practice new skills and monitor their own learning.
- Assess student learning continuously and adapt teaching to student needs.
- Provide clear standards, constant feedback, and opportunities for revising work.
- Develop and effectively manage a collaborative classroom in which all students have membership.
The complexity of effective instruction demands a rethinking of teacher evaluation practices. Current evaluation procedures typically involve infrequent observations and hours of administrative time to prepare written reports.
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) describes evaluation procedures as "broken — cursory, perfunctory, superficial, and inconsistent." The California Teachers Association (CTA) conveys that teachers "want a system that provides meaningful feedback, improves their practice, allows them to grow in the profession and ultimately enhances student learning."
One way to measure the effectiveness of a teacher is to look at student performance growth — how was the student achieving at the beginning of the school year compared to how the student is achieving at the end of the school year?
In a recent Lodi News-Sentinel article, I was quoted regarding my support of considering student performance growth as a part of the evaluation package. This quote has surfaced local debate and discussion concerning using student performance data for teacher evaluation. Educators should not fear transparent student data use, but embrace it as one source of information that can be considered with other information and feedback to strengthen student learning.
In addition to helping individual teachers be more effective instructors and consider student performance growth data, school districts should set up structures that encourage staff teamwork, so teachers can share successful practices and plan with each other.
Two years ago, I participated in a research think tank (Superintendent Executive Leadership Forum — SELF) with selected superintendents and our nation's top education reformers including Richard Elmore, Doug Reeves, Michael Fullan, Meredith Honig and Michael Copland. This effort, sponsored by UC Davis and the Center for Applied Policy in Education (CAP Ed), unveiled effective instruction themes I continue to revisit in my work to improve the learning of all children in our district and include:
- Responsive feedback is important to raise performance — think about world class athletes, musicians and doctoral students who crave immediate "coaching" feedback to lift and accelerate performance and attain goals.
- Deprivatize practices ... We must open our school systems up to better share and calibrate best teaching practices.
- Instructional improvement can be difficult and slow but coaching can accelerate and better sustain the change through capacity building.
- The role of the superintendent and district office must be examined to support the system to optimize student learning.
So how should we evaluate teachers?
1. Differentiate the evaluation depending on the performance of the teacher, so teachers who need help get more of the evaluator's time and attention.
2. Get rid of infrequent time-intensive "dog and pony show" evaluations and replace them with on-going classroom observations with timely feedback by the observer. Kim Marshall's book, "Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation," has good suggestions.
3. Support principals and master teachers as coaches to observe student learning and teaching practices and provide responsive face-to-face feedback on a regular basis.
4. Consider a combination of research-based information including some fair and unbiased measure of student growth to support teaching improvement and more efficiently address personnel needs including teacher dismissal.
5. Implement an effective Peer and Assistance Review (PAR) program that monitors support and progress of at-risk teachers coached for improvement by expert teachers.
6. Recognize exemplary teaching performance and teamwork through coaching opportunities and the sharing of best practices.
7. Support a school district culture that values and supports high expectations, continuous learning, and fosters teacher leadership at every school.
Every student can — and must — learn. High expectations for all our students must be coupled with high performance standards for teachers, principals and the superintendent. Working together to develop an effective evaluation system with and for teachers is paramount to improve student learning.
Karen Schauer, Galt Joint Elementary Union School District Superintendent, has served children in public education for 31 years as a teacher, school district administrator and superintendent. Her doctoral research identified the characteristics of successful superintendents as learning organization leaders. In 2010, she was recognized by the California School Administrators Association Region 3 with a Silver Star Leadership Award and received the Galt Community of Character Coalition Award for the character trait of Integrity.