In the world of school reform, there is a lot of talk about teacher evaluation these days. Hardly anyone believes the systems in place are worth much, given that many districts report that administrators often rate almost all teachers “satisfactory” and pay little attention to student results. And most everyone knows the Race to the Top states are rocketing toward implementing new systems, replete with more intensive classroom observations, mechanical use of value-added ratings, and four-point rating scales.
However, the teacher-evaluation engines are already beginning to stall. Tennessee, for example, is struggling to find time for “micromanaged” principals to conduct effective and useful observations. And New York City is rolling out wildly inaccurate* value-added test scores results to judge (and then fire) teachers.
And now bright-eyed enthusiasts for R2T-esque teacher evaluations are raising hard questions about the rigid use of test scores to judge teachers. Many point out that if principals and teachers don’t trust one another, then these evaluation systems won’t do much to improve teaching and learning. Robin Lake, for example, of the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington, recently wrote a guest post on Rick Hess's blog. There, she makes the good point that the system requires not just new “tools,” but serious “attention to organizational capacity and relationships.”
Making these relationships a priority will require not just more collaboration between administrators and union leaders, as Robin suggests, but developing new systems so teachers themselves can lead the way. This would allow more teachers like Ryan Kinser of Hillsborough County, Florida (and many of his 15,000 teaching colleagues in the Tampa-area school district), to drive reforms that will affect their classrooms. Ryan, in his powerful blog posts over at transformED, points to a number of huge issues with using value-added results to improve teaching and learning. He also suggests specific strategies for using VAM in ways that make sense for teachers and the students they serve.
Soon, Ryan and his CTQ-supported New Millennium Initiative team will release a powerful multimedia product that focuses on leveraging promising teacher evaluation reforms in their district to transform the teaching profession. In her blog post, Robin Lake cites the research of Tony Bryk on the importance of organizational trust and coherence in much-needed evaluation reforms. In Tampa, the school district and union—and now a growing group of solutions-oriented teachers—are showing just how it can be done.
* It has been shown that the use of “value-added assessments” in New York is grossly imprecise. For example, the margin of error spans 35 percentiles in math and 53 in English. Some teachers' evaluations were based on as few as 10 students.