April 23, 2012
Developing Effective, Teacher-Friendly Teaching Evaluations
The implementation of any teacher evaluation system involves challenges and numerous considerations, such as the “accuracy of the measurement, inclusion of all the dimensions of what is meant to be measured, consistency with the goals of the feedback exercise, adaptation to the needs of those who will use the results (teachers, school leaders, educational authorities), cost-effectiveness, and practical feasibility.” Multiple-measure evaluations in particular require time and initiative from teachers and administrators. Buy-in from teachers is critical, as the use of multiple data sources not only opens the door for a broader scope of excellent or effective performance, but also enhances the prospect of additional criticism for weak performance in other areas.
Articulation of Evaluation Goals: Formative and Summative Assessments
Critical in the initial stage of implementation is the ability of district administrators to clearly articulate the purpose of the formative or summative components of the evaluation process. Summative evaluations generally reveal information about participants’ overall competencies, whereas formative assessments rate competencies at multiple points in time in order to help guide future strategies. In other words, formative assessments allow teachers and administrators to utilize constructive feedback in order to improve instructional or leadership techniques.
Schools and school districts must determine whether the evaluation activities are to play a formative/improvement function or an accountability/summative function, or a combination of both. According to a review by the OECD, there is an inherent tension between the two functions:
When the evaluation is oriented toward the improvement of practice within schools, teachers are typically open to reveal their weaknesses, in the expectation that conveying that information will lead to more effective decisions on development needs and training. However, when teachers are confronted with potential consequences of evaluation on their career and salary, the inclination to reveal weak aspects of performance is reduced, i.e. the improvement function is jeopardized. Also, using the same evaluation process for both purposes undermines the usefulness of some instruments (such as self-evaluation), and creates an additional burden on evaluators as their decisions have somewhat conflicting consequences (e.g. tension between improving performance by identifying weaknesses and limited career progression, if the evaluation prevents teachers from advancing in their career).
Administrators must think carefully about the goal of evaluation procedures and the conditions that will best promote the summative or formative nature of the process. Both contexts may present challenges. Summative evaluations with an emphasis on accountability, for example, may lead to insecurity or fear among teachers, while formative evaluations may lead to teacher or union expectations for social recognition of quality work or enhanced professional development opportunities.
Conditions that support formative teacher evaluation processes aimed at improvement include the following:
- A non-threatening evaluation context;
- A culture of mutually providing and receiving feedback;
- Clear individual and collective objectives with regard to improving teaching within the school;
- Simple evaluation instruments, such as self-evaluation forms, classroom observation, and structured interviews;
- Supportive school leadership;
- Opportunities to enhance competencies as well as resources to improve practice; and
- Teacher evaluation integrated in a system of school self-evaluation and quality assurance.
Meanwhile, conditions that support summative teacher evaluation processes used for accountability purposes include the following:
- An independent and objective assessment of the teacher’s performance;
- National-level standards and criteria across schools;
- An evaluation component external to the school and more formal processes;
- Well-established rules regarding the consequences of the evaluation;
- Clear individual objectives with regard to all aspects of a teacher’s performance;
- Well-trained, competent evaluators of teaching performance;
- An impact on the professional development plan; and
- Possibilities for appeal for teachers who feel they have not been treated fairly.
Ultimately, best practices will result from a thorough assessment of a school system’s unique needs and the use of evaluations in a purposeful manner.