Effectively Evaluating Teachers

Teachers and teacher education can be and should be evaluated. The evaluation of those hoping to become teachers is the primary responsibility of teacher education programs and certifying agencies. These programs are to identify capable candidates and help them develop the qualities needed to be successful teachers. Throughout the process of becoming a teacher, the programs assess these students’ skills, knowledge and attitudes. Those who do not meet the standards are not allowed to continue in the program.

Educational and field experiences to develop and demonstrate competency help determine the candidate’s ability to carry out the responsibilities of a teacher. These experiences offer multiple sources of data for evaluation to determine if the necessary competencies are present to an adequate degree. If not, then remediation or removal is prescribed. The minimal competencies expected at each stage in the teacher education program are met before a candidate can advance to the next level.

The first criterion for entry into teaching is to have a genuine calling to serve humanity by educating others. Teacher candidates must demonstrate that commitment and meet the high standards called for in such a noble endeavor. Those standards include being the best and brightest, which means they need to possess the best qualities and character and be the brightest in mental abilities and teaching skills. In my career as a teacher educator, I have striven to see that only those students with proven character, intelligence and the ability to inspire students in the classroom are certified to teach. I am increasingly concerned that the new teachers I have helped prepare will not be given the support needed to enable them to be successful in their classrooms. I feel they and we, as their teachers, are being set up for failure.

A performance evaluation system to determine eligibility for teaching needs to be credible to the parties affected by the decisions. As education is not simply a process of sorting and selecting, promoting or firing of teacher candidates and teachers should not be either. Like students, teacher candidates and teachers should be given a chance to improve, to remediate and demonstrate competence. However, if they do not meet the minimal expectations within a reasonable timeline, they should not be allowed to continue until they can. Teacher education programs have the first line of responsibility to see that only those candidates with the potential to be good teachers are allowed to enroll and remain in programs to become certified as teachers. Then administrators, fellow educators, community members and students should be given a voice in the selection and retention of those licensed teachers.

For whatever the reason, many skilled and capable people fail to live up to their potential or to perform their duties adequately. In these cases, they should be helped to do the right thing, but cannot be made to do so. If they choose not to, then they should not be teaching. We should be doing all we can to assist teachers to be the best they can. Teachers who are given credible evidence that they are not performing up to standard will generally remediate or leave on their own. Some people have difficulty seeing their own shortcomings and weaknesses and may not be willing or able to make the changes needed. If they do not, they can be counseled out or dismissed. In a consultative framework, in which the parties are fully, honestly, fairly and compassionately informed, involved and consulted, a good plan of action and an effective plan for professional, community and institutional development and improvement can be found.

A high quality evaluation system will weigh all relevant and important factors. Research sponsored by the American Educational Research Association and National Academy of Education found the following “both to predict teacher effectiveness and to help improve teachers’ practice.”

• performance assessments for licensure and advanced certification that are based on professional teaching standards, such as National Board Certification and beginning teacher performance assessments in states like California and Connecticut; and
• on-the-job evaluation tools that include structured observations, classroom artifacts, analysis of student learning, and frequent feedback based on professional standards. (Darling-Hammond, Amrein-Beardsley, Haertel, & Rothstein, 2011)

They also found benefits in teacher collaboration, training evaluators, frequent evaluation and feedback and peer assistance and review.

Teaching can be conceived of as a set of interactions among teacher, student and material (Cohen, Ruadenbush, & Ball, 2003; Grubb 2008). A good evaluation system will identify what the problems are, where they reside, who is responsible for fixing them, what their causes and solutions are and how they might be best addressed. For example, the problem might lie in the teacher, the student, the family, the school, the principal, the community, the curriculum, the materials, some other factor or some varying combination of these factors. Properly identifying and defining the problem is an important first step. If students are failing, it is not necessarily the teacher’s fault, and therefore, blaming the teachers or improving them will not fix the problem.

Finally, using students’ test scores as the primary evaluation tool for teachers fails the three-way test of truth, love and justice.

For this discussion, it is perhaps most important to underscore that most tests are not designed to support inferences about related questions, such as how well students were taught, what effects their teachers had on their learning, why students in some schools or classrooms succeed while those in similar schools and classrooms do not, whether conditions in the schools have improved as a result of a policy change, or what policy makers should do to solidify gains or reverse declines. Answering those sorts of questions requires more and different kinds of evidence than test scores. (National Research Council, 2011a, pp. 5.2)

We will discuss the problems with using students’ scores on standardized test to evaluate teachers further in later sections.


About rodclarken

Dr. Rodney H Clarken is professor emeritus, School of Education, Northern Michigan University.
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