James H. Stronge

What’s Wrong with Teacher Evaluation and How to Fix It: One Size Fits All

Teachers matter. They have an extraordinary, positive, and lasting effect on their students. Students with high-performing teachers can progress three times as fast as students with low-performing teachers, and each student deserves access to highly effective teachers in every subject.

So, how do we know which teachers are effective? All teachers deserve a fair and accurate assessment of their skills, how they perform in the classroom, and how they can improve. Teacher effectiveness is dependent on these accurate and fair evaluations that are based on multiple measures, including—but not solely based on—their students' performance in the subjects they teach.

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. So far in this series of blog posts, I've discussed how observation does not equal evaluation and purposeful, data-driven evaluation. Today I lay out the problems of and solutions to a one-size-fits-all evaluation framework.

The Problem: One Size Fits All

What's Wrong

In teacher evaluation, as with almost everything else, one size doesn't fit; it never did and it never will.

Attempting to apply the same dose of evaluation to all teachers leads to a host of problems. For instance, novice teachers need frequent feedback on what and how well they are teaching. Experienced teachers, on the other hand, may benefit more from individualized growth plans that support their ongoing professional mastery as effective teachers. Thus, it is essential to distinguish different teacher levels—novice versus experienced and effective versus ineffective.

An even more pernicious problem than the one-size teacher evaluation systems are those that attempt to fit nonclassroom instructional positions with the teacher evaluation cloak. To illustrate the serious flaw of evaluating based on a teacher-evaluation model, think for a moment about the wide array of professionals who walk through the schoolhouse door on any given day who are not classroom teachers: counselor, library-media specialist, school psychologist, social worker, occupational therapist, physical therapist, and school nurse. In fact, approximately 25 to 40 percent of the instructional employees in the school are not classroom teachers. And the best answer for many of the items on the typical teacher evaluation checklist when applied to these specialist positions is N/A.

How to Fix It

Provide a differentiated evaluation system that fits the levels of performance as well as the specific positions being evaluated. When teachers are new in the field, provide a more intense support system that includes frequent classroom visits and conferences to help them build better instructional practices. When teachers are experienced and effective, continue to evaluate but shift the focus to continuous growth and support. When teachers are experienced and ineffective, move to an approach that is diagnostic/prescriptive with detailed guidance, support, and consequences for improving performance. Figure 2 suggests this concept of differentiated evaluation levels.

When considering nonclassroom instructional professionals, evaluate them based on their professional job standards and performance expectations. Additionally, collect data on performance for the various positions that best fit their positions. For instance, observation may be a primary data collection tool for classroom teachers, but observation for a school social worker or a school nurse simply doesn't capture the work they do and their contributions to the school community. Instead, the methods for documenting performance must be adjusted to better reflect meaningful ways to fairly and accurately document their work.

© 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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