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Tensions and Pitfalls in Teacher Evaluation Policies

In Education, Pedagogy, Special Education on Thursday, 27 September 2012 at 04:40

Getting Honest About the Tensions and Pitfalls in Teacher Evaluation Policies

By Sara Mead on September 26, 2012 10:48 AM

Today the American Enterprise Institute is releasing a new paper that I wrote with my colleagues Andrew Rotherham and Rachael Brown looking at some of the tensions in the current policy shift towards new teacher evaluation systems–and advising policymakers on how to avoid some potential pitfalls implicit in those tensions.

Obviously, Andy, Rachael and I are no foes of the move towards new systems of teacher evaluation: We believe the previous system–which ignored student learning completely, failed to recognize excellence or give teachers meaningful feedback to improve, and rated 99+% of teachers satisfactory or better–was clearly a broken one. We also believe that new evaluation systems, when done well, have the potential not only to identify ineffective teachers who would be better suited to other careers, but also to give due credit to excellent teachers who should be rewarded and retained, and to help all teachers improve their performance.

But we’re also very cognizant of the pitfalls here. In the rush to gain public and political support for new evaluation systems, proponents of these systems have too often over-promised or ignored real limitations, tensions, and trade-offs in both the design of these systems and the technologies (including value-added metrics, data systems, and observational rubrics) that underlie them. As Iwrote recently, there’s a temptation among some reformers to treat value-added measures and evaluation systems as a sort of “magical black box” that, if we just use it, will tell us the real, honest truth about teacher performance. But the reality is a lot more complicated than that. And in failing to acknowledge that, reformers run the risk of jeopardizing the sustainability and success of the very systems they seek to promote. We need to move forward with new teacher evaluation systems–but we need to do so with humility, the recognition that no one knows all the answers, and plenty of room for flexibility and revision over time as we learn from the successes and challenges of various models.

Andy, Rachael, and I outline four key tensions that have been overlooked in current debates over teacher evaluation: 1) Tensions between centralized control and flexibility, 2) Tensions about the role of teacher evaluation in an evolving overall ecosystem where an increasing number of teachers cannot be directly linked to the test scores of a specific group of students in a specific subject, 3) Tensions about how to prioritize different purposes (accountability, personnel decisions, professional development) for which evaluation results may be used, and 4) Tensions about what it really means to evaluate teachers as professionals. We also offer recommendations for policymakers seeking to negotiate and balance these tensions in evolving teacher evaluation systems. Check out the whole thing here.

Retrieved from: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/sarameads_policy_notebook/2012/09/avoiding_a_teacher_evaluation_hangover.html?print=1

The hangover: Thinking about the unintended consequences of the nation’s teacher evaluation binge

Sara Mead, Andrew J. Rotherham, Rachael Brown | American Enterprise Institute

September 26, 2012

Over the past three years, more than twenty US states have passed legislation establishing new teacher evaluation requirements and systems, and even more have committed to do so in Race to the Top or Elementary and Secondary Education Act Flexibility Waiver applications. These new evaluation systems have real potential to foster a more performance-oriented public education culture that gives teachers meaningful feedback about the quality and impact of their work. But there are pitfalls in states’ rush to legislate new systems, and there are real tensions and trade-offs in their design.

Unfortunately, much of the current policy debate has been framed in stark ideological terms that leave little room for adult discussion of these tensions. This paper seeks to move the debate beyond ideology and technical issues by highlighting four key tensions that policymakers, advocates, and educators must consider in the development of new teacher evaluations:

  • Flexibility versus control: There is a temptation to prescribe and legislate details of evaluations to ensure rigor and prevent evaluations from being watered down in implementation. But overly prescriptive policies may also limit school autonomy and stifle innovation that could lead to the development of better evaluations.
  • Evaluation in an evolving system: Poorly designed evaluation requirements could pose an obstacle to blended learning and other innovative models in which it is difficult or impossible to attribute student learning gains in a particular subject to a particular teacher.
  • Purposes of evaluations: New evaluation systems have been sold as a way both to identify and dismiss underperforming teachers and to provide all teachers with useful feedback to help them improve their performance. But there are strong tensions between these purposes that create trade-offs in evaluation system design.
  • Evaluating teachers as professionals: Advocates argue that holding teachers responsible for their performance will bring teaching more in line with norms in other fields, but most professional fields rely on a combination of data and managerial judgment when making evaluation and personnel decisions, and subsequently hold managers accountable for those decisions, rather than trying to eliminate subjective judgments as some new teacher evaluation systems seek to do.

Recognizing these tensions and trade-offs, this paper offers several policy recommendations:

  • Be clear about the problems new evaluation systems are intended to solve.
  • Do not mistake processes and systems as substitutes for cultural change.
  • Look at the entire education ecosystem, including broader labor-market impacts, pre- and in-service preparation, standards and assessments, charter schools, and growth of early childhood education and innovative school models.
  • Focus on improvement, not just deselection.
  • Encourage and respect innovation.
  • Think carefully about waivers versus umbrellas.
  • Do not expect legislation to do regulation’s job.
  • Create innovation zones for pilots—and fund them.

Retrieved from: http://www.aei.org/papers/education/k-12/teacher-policies/the-hangover-thinking-about-the-unintended-consequences-of-the-nations-teacher-evaluation-binge/

 

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