James H. Stronge

What’s Wrong with Teacher Evaluation and How to Fix It: Observation Equals Evaluation

So, where do we begin?

Teacher evaluation, throughout most of our recent history, has been practiced religiously with the intent—or, at least, hope—that it will improve performance. The assumption underlying much of teacher evaluation practice goes something like this:

 

Teacher Observation = Teacher Evaluation = Teacher Improvement

 

We know that this system does not work. A picture of educator skill and practice cannot be gained through observation alone, and not all evaluation processes promote professional growth and affect student achievement. In this series of blog posts, I attempt to offer an analysis of three contemporary teacher evaluation practices within a problem/solution framework.

What can we do about the abysmal state of teacher evaluation? Firstly, we need to recognize what's wrong, and secondly, we need to fix it.

The Problem: Observation Equals Evaluation

What's Wrong

Have you ever heard a teacher say, "I'm being evaluated today"? What she or he probably meant was, "I'm being observed today." However, observation and evaluation are not synonymous: Observation is data collection; good evaluation is judgment based on data collection.

Unfortunately, we have far too many teachers and administrators who think of evaluation merely as a classroom visit once or twice a year for about half an hour each visit—perhaps for a bit longer or a lot less time. Most certainly, observation—especially observation grounded in the teacher effectiveness research—should play a prominent role in collecting evidence of a teacher's work; however, in virtually all circumstances, observation alone will yield, at best, a partial and misleading picture of performance. Although observation can—and should—play a fundamental data-collection role in an effective teacher evaluation system, observation-only evaluation systems are flawed from the get-go.

How to Fix It

Let me suggest a simple remedy for the common flaw of observation-only evaluation systems: consider evaluation to be a process, not an event. When teachers say, "I'm being evaluated today," or principals/evaluators have teachers sign and date a completed observation and then file it away, the observational data collection is reduced to little more than a sporadic event. Professional growth, teacher learning, and accountability are best served when evaluation is considered as an ongoing, unending process. In fact improvement—whether for the individual teacher or the school as a whole—almost always emerges from the processes of thinking about teaching, practicing the art and science of teaching, rethinking how it is done best, and then changing practice—one step at a time.

In the next post in this series, I'll address the problem of evaluation through osmosis.

© James H. Stronge. Used with permission.

James H. Stronge is the Heritage Professor in the Educational Policy, Planning, and Leadership Area at the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Va. He also is the president of Stronge and Associates, an educational consulting group that focuses on teacher and leader effectiveness. His research interests include policy and practice related to teacher quality and teacher and administrator evaluation. His work on teacher quality focuses on how to identify effective teachers, how to connect teacher performance to student success, and how to enhance teacher effectiveness.

Stronge has presented his research at numerous and conducted workshops for school districts and educational organizations throughout the United States and internationally. Among his current research projects are international comparative studies of national award-winning teachers in the United States and China and developing a U.S. Department of State-sponsored principal evaluation system for American schools in South America. Additionally, he has worked extensively with states, regional organizations, and local school districts on issues related to teacher quality, teacher selection, and teacher and administrator evaluation.

Stronge has been a teacher, counselor, and district-level administrator and has authored, coauthored, or edited 22 books and more than 100 articles, chapters, and technical reports. Connect with him by e-mail at james.stronge@strongeandassociates.com.

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