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What's the Best Way to Evaluate a Teacher?

A recent study suggested evaluations by students – including those in elementary and middle school – should play a part.

How do you measure effective teaching?

That is the question surrounding the MET (Measures of Effective Teaching) study done by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This study, the second in the series, was launched in 2009 in order to define and create a reliable way to measure teacher effectiveness. 

Last month, the latest report from this study was released and, not surprisingly, it drew both praise and criticism, depending upon which blog you read.

Data was collected from six major urban school districts. About 3,000 teachers volunteered for this study and, in return, received a $1,500 stipend. In this study, teachers were evaluated using five different observation tools. Not only were the observation tools used to observe the teachers, the tools themselves were evaluated. The bottom line was the study endorsed using multiple observation tools in combination with teachers’ value-added scores and student feedback.

Yes, you heard me correctly –  they asked students in 4th through 8th grades if they thought their teacher did a good job and included their responses in the evaluations. 

Not only did they see this as an accurate measure of teacher effectiveness, they found that this was more accurate than other measures. My guess is the responses would vary greatly depending upon the grade the student received on the last spelling test, if the student’s classroom job was to feed the hamster or clean erasers, or if there were tater tots on the lunch menu that day.

Did I mention this study cost $45 million?

It does make sense that using multiple evaluation tools to measure teacher performance is more reliable than using the value-added model, which measures student achievement (call 'em  what you want, they’re still standardized test scores) as the sole indicator of teacher effectiveness. 

Any teacher will tell you that scores vary greatly from classroom to classroom depending on the mix of students. As much as principals try to create balanced classrooms, there will always be a teacher who gets more high achievers compared to other classes. This is true from year to year as well. 

When I was a classroom teacher, there were years when the kids were well behaved, picked up the material easily, produced quality work, and life was a dream. Other years were, well, more on the nightmare side of the spectrum. Guess which years produced higher test scores?

Currently, teacher pay is determined by a combination of level of education and years of teaching experience. That’s it. Given the simplicity, it would seem that teachers would have no motivation to bring their A-game.

However, this line of thinking assumes that teachers are motivated by monetary rewards. Believe me when I tell you, no teacher is in it for the money. Now, if they can take all this research and figure out how to support and train teachers to improve student achievement more effectively, that would be something. 

Sue Schaefer is a student advocate, academic coach, and certified teacher. We encourage you to visit her website: Academic Coaching Associates. You may email Sue at susan.schaefer@academiccoachingct.com.

You can also follow Sue on twitter: @sueschaefer1

Cornelius (Neil) Lynch February 11, 2012 at 03:49 PM
There have been so many proposals put forth recently regarding the evaluation of teachers, I'm waiting for the next step which is the evaluation of the evaluators. Where do the time and resources come from for the pre- and post-conferences that these evaluations will entail? (Back in the dark ages I learned in my English classes that some adjectives, such as round, may not be compared, i. e., something is either round or it isn't; it can't be more round. I remember "accurate" and "perfect" being on that list. Has that rule changed?)
Jim G. February 11, 2012 at 04:52 PM
I have many educators in the family (my mother was one) and know something of the arguments... but in the end, teachers need to be judged on their actual classroom performance measured in academic improvement. It does NOT have to be an absolute that will apply unequally to differing classes and it does NOT have to be "pass or fail" based on any one classroom year... but even with various weighting and adaptations, any three-year span of ratings should show who's good, who's adequate and who needs to find another line of work.
Sami Mehmed Jr February 12, 2012 at 02:57 AM
Hey Jim. Finally one of your written comments is succinct and understandable. Its my experience that no matter the evaluation system the evaluations will always be subjective. Even manipulated in some manner. Sorry for the non optimistic comment. Did Susan state that the mentioned study cost $45 Million and was payed for bye the Gates foundation. Thanks Bill.
Emmon D. Kalasnikov February 12, 2012 at 12:16 PM
Oooh, wait, wait, Jim: Do you mean that teachers should actually be evaluated like other people on their jobs? What their boss sees in on-the-job performance and what the results are of their work after 2-3 years? Rubbish!!! Next thing you'll be saying is they shouldn't have a job for life once they pass a certain number of years and training! What is the world coming to? :-) Ha. Very good comment, Jim.
Tricia February 12, 2012 at 12:17 PM
@ Sami - it's a shame that you didn't seem to understand the content of other posts of Jim. He is remarkably witty and balanced, and really gives no non-sensical posts a pass (mine included). Given your observation above (no system of evaluation works), what could possibly be the basis for assessing anything in your view? For education, are you suggesting purely free market, home schooling, other? I read your comment is implying that you are throwing up your hands and suggest walking away from the effort to educate. Of course that's over stated, but there's a huge gap betwee your non-optimistic statement and getting to an improved situation, and I hope you are not suggesting tha nothing works, so let's quit the effort. But what other conclusion might one draw?
Greg February 12, 2012 at 02:13 PM
Where in the proposed Connecticut teacher evaluation proposal adopted by the state board of education last week did it say anything about aligning with the results of the Gates Foundation study? Unless I missed it there was nothing about student input into the Connecticut plan. Here we go again, Connecticut knows better than the rest of the World and at the end of the day we are the bottom dwellers. Many of the Gates Educational studies have shown common sense wins out over complex proposals. In their highest achieving schools study, these school did things like have the non-english (language arts) teachers decide what english content should be taught rather than the english teachers just picking their favorite things to teach. Same went for all the subject areas. The teachers that had students apply their skills and knowledge picked what the students need to have entering their course--common sense.
DB February 12, 2012 at 03:30 PM
Perhaps having teachers that are actually motivated (and rewarded!) by "the money" would be a step in the right direction. More competition for positions, better retention and a higher caliber of kids pursuing the teaching profession all seem like possible benefits.
Jim G. February 12, 2012 at 03:47 PM
We can barely pay teacher compensation now - and the recent health care cost explosion is the single biggest cause of the budgetary problems. It's a great idea to raise teacher salaries... but in the end, no one wants to pay for it. Go ahead, propose a 5-point increase in the mill rate to give teachers a 20-25% raise... They don't even want to pay to maintain the current levels, with the budget slashed to the bone and all cost increases coming from fixed-expense increases. Next suggestion?
Sami Mehmed Jr February 12, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Whatever conclusion you arrive at works for you Robert. Living in the real world with this topic of evaluation has completely supported a non-optimistic view / opinion. The evaluation system and its implementation is only part of the issue. The sphere of protection and the monitoring of your own group by group members supports non-optimistic views / opinions and results. Large groups such as the one this topic addresses has far too much influence over any evaluation that can be fair, objective or provide a better education for our kids ..... no matter the verbal statements by highly educated, diploma recognized, well meaning educators .
Jim G. February 12, 2012 at 05:30 PM
I won't say I agree completely with Sami (Patch might implode) but in the end, I can't think of any way to fix the US educational system except by burning it to the ground and starting over. There are so many intractable problems and conflicting forces - many of which stem from trying to retain 1900s-1950s notions and methods in the system, and the rest which stem from trying to use unproven ideas - that the chances of a reasonable, one-step-at-a-time fix are somewhere between nil and squat.
Zachary Smith March 03, 2012 at 06:28 PM
Q. How should teachers be evaluated? A. Any way the principal wants.

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