Evaluating Teachers

Had a great lunch with a History teacher friend (and former student) today.  We talked a lot about education policy and were very much in accord that we need a related cultural and policy shift that values teachers as professionals and compensates them accordingly, thereby drawing from a more ambitious and competent pool of college graduates.

Also reminded me that one of my students asked me the other day how are we supposed to evaluate teachers if not by their student’s test scores.  Well, a few minutes on the google and it turns out the NEA (sure, they’ve got their bias, but they are summarizing independent research) has a nice summary of how high-performing nations evaluate their teachers:

n most nations, teacher evaluation systems are essentially a “work in progress,” says Andreas Schleicher of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development  (OECD).   Schleicher, who attended the ISTP, is the principal author of the study that was presented at the summitt. The report,Teachers for the 21st Century: Using Evaluations to Improve Teachingtakes a look at how different nations are tackling this thorny issue (or not tackling it) and identifying specific models that appear to work – that is, have buy-in from key stakeholders and can point to demonstrable results in student achievement. Because consensus is so frustratingly elusive, most nations are treading carefully, although there is widespread acknowledgement that improved evaluation systems have to be on the menu of education policy reforms.

Of the 28 countries surveyed in the OECD report, 22 have formal policy frameworks in place at the national level to regulate teacher evaluations. The six education systems that do not have such frameworks include Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, but teachers in the countries still received professional feedback. In Denmark, for example, teachers receive feedback from their school administrators once a year. In Norway, teacher-appraisal policies are designed and implemented at the local or school level. In Iceland, evaluation is left to the discretion of individual schools and school boards.

In high-ranking Finland, the national ministry of education plays no role in teacher evaluation. Instead, broad policies are defined in the contract with the teachers’ union. Teachers are then typically appraised against the national core curriculum and the school development plan. Finland, of course, is known for having no standardized testing, obviously then making it impossible for it to be used as a tool for teacher evaluation. (Finland’s education system does just fine without it) [emphases in original] …

Wariness over the misuse of test scores runs throughout the school systems in most nations – an acknowledgment that they cannot provide a complete picture of teaching quality and that multiple sources of evidence are required (many countries include parent and student surveys as well as classroom observations, and peer and principal assessment). In addition, representatives at the ISTP agreed that teacher-appraisal systems must include high-quality professional development, good working conditions, support from administrators, and a prominent role for teachers in designing new policies.

So, no easy answers here.  But what is clear is that test-based evaluation is only a modest portion in the countries that out-perform us and not a factor at all in top-performing Finland.  And surely we are falling short on professional feedback and development.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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