Back to school: How to measure a good teacher
Back to school: Perhaps the most controversial education reform is how to measure a good teacher. As the trend to overhaul teacher evaluations catches fire, some teachers find that new feedback and mentoring programs can lead to 'incredible' results with their students.
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But, Newman now admits, the results exceeded her wildest expectations and caused her to rethink ways to push her students even more. Her students sorted the quick-write cards and talked about their common characteristics, and then put those characteristics on a chart under scores of 0, 1, 2, or 3. They gave higher scores to the cards that used math vocabulary and a full explanation, and low scores when not enough support was given.Skip to next paragraph
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"Sometimes we underestimate what kids can do," Newman says, noting that she's shared the experience with other teachers, some of whom are now trying the same things. "Once I made that shift and saw what this looks like for 7-year-olds, I saw what it could look like for 6-year-olds. I told people, it's not just pretend."
Newman says her classroom learning culture moved from good to "incredible. And it was all based on the observation feedback we got."
It's not easy, though, she says, for Type A teachers used to only being praised: "The psychology of the shift we've undergone has been one of the hardest things for teachers."
Last year, teacher evaluation scores of 71.5 out of 100 – what might seem like barely a C grade to most teachers – actually put teachers in the top 11 percent, says Newman, but it was tough for them to initially see that.
Many teachers in Hillsborough County are, like Newman, coming to view the evidence-based feedback as a gift, not a threat. And it helps that the district involved teachers in the planning process from the beginning, and got the local union to sign off on it.
While the system, currently in its second year, is still being tweaked, multiple-measure teacher evaluation in Hillsborough County breaks down this way: 40 percent on student achievement, determined by standardized test scores; 30 percent on principal observation; and 30 percent on a peer evaluator observation. (Next year, the principal's observations will count more.)
Eventually, the scores will affect pay, except for some veteran teachers who choose not to opt in to the new pay scale.
The district trained hundreds of accomplished teachers to be peer evaluators and mentors, working as coaches for relatively new teachers while observing and evaluating other teachers in the district.
Poor reform may mean revolt
Newman's enthusiastic response stands in marked contrast to those of teachers in some other districts, where they are in revolt over new evaluation measures.
Take the case of the "outing" of New York City's "worst teacher," splashed in the tabloid New York Post last February. It was an extreme example of how evaluation reform can spread fear and loathing among teachers.
The city's school system developed a complex formula that predicts how a teacher's students should perform on exams each year, and then ranks them against students of other teachers.
The scores, in theory, are for internal use, but this year the city released them to the media. The Post crowned a sixth-grade English as a second language teacher the worst: Even though the city says there is a margin of error of 35 percentiles in math and 53 percentiles in language arts, and even though her principal and colleagues agree she's excellent, the scores showed glaring anomalies.
Misidentifying the worst – or best – teachers, and improperly firing or rewarding them is just the most glaring of the unintended consequences from a poorly designed evaluation system, say some education experts. Other risks include pushing teachers to teach to a flawed test, or pitting teachers against each other.
Small details in how the systems are rolled out make a big difference in the districts and states that have undertaken overhauls of teacher evaluation. Involving teachers in a meaningful way in the design, for instance, is key, as are good communication and shifting resources to fund the new plan.
In some areas, teachers and principals are up in arms over what they see as an attack on the teaching profession and faulty scoring systems.