The San Diego County Grand Jury put it bluntly: The teacher evaluation process used throughout California public schools is “broken.”

fix san diego opinionThis comes as no surprise to anyone working on a school campus. Teachers and administrators alike see little value in the current process, which rates nearly everyone “Satisfactory.”  But so far, there’s not much consensus on a viable alternative.

Discussions about designing a new process rarely get beyond the one-dimensional idea of using student test scores to measure teacher performance.

This raises the ire of the California Teachers Association. The union wants no part of a process that might allow principals to use student performance data to unfairly target certain teachers for termination. The recent teacher tenure ruling in Vergara v. California added more fuel to this fire.

READ MORE: The Most Blistering Findings from the Big Teacher Tenure Ruling

We need a new system, one capable of measuring teacher efforts, strengthening the profession and contributing to the mission of every school: greater student achievement.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

A new evaluation process must take into consideration all major components of a teacher’s job. These include classroom instruction, planning lessons, grading exams and essays and an invaluable practice of self-reflection. These last three components aren’t easily noticeable during the annual one-hour classroom observation most principals use during the current teacher evaluations. And you definitely won’t find them while looking at student test scores.

The new process should consider highlighting teachers who already play leadership roles on campus, whether they volunteer as a department head or Professional Learning Community team leader, a peer coach or student performance data analyst. These are the teachers who think beyond their own classrooms to help other educators improve.

What these volunteers do as teacher-leaders is rarely used as part of their current evaluations. They get rated the same as everyone else – “Satisfactory” – based on that one-hour classroom observation. But we can use these teacher-leaders as eager test subjects while we try to fix the process.

The transition should be handled carefully. Teachers should be given the option of either continuing to be evaluated under the current, safe, orthodox process or choosing to be evaluated as teacher-leaders.

Under the latter option, teacher-leaders would be evaluated not only for what they did in their respective classrooms, but also for what they did to help other teachers. This would put a much-needed premium on innovation, sharing best practices and collegial teamwork, as well as the development of leadership skills.

Teachers could compile a professional portfolio to submit for review, including things like a video of them instructing class followed by a critique by fellow teachers, or a written self-reflection on the experience of having led a volunteer effort during the school year.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards already uses similar portfolio requirements to evaluate its board-certified teacher candidates.

Additionally, instead of a traditional two-way dialogue between teacher and principal, districts could expand the evaluation process to include an annual daylong symposium in which teachers presented their portfolio findings to other school principals, community leaders, parents and fellow teachers.

Though teacher-leader evaluations might still yield plenty of “Satisfactory” marks, the additional rigor in this process would make such a rating much more meaningful.

Before we waste any more time or effort touting student test scores as a means to hold teachers accountable, let’s put to use the innovative spirit we should value in teachers, and set a new standard for evaluating our educators.

Steve Rodriguez is an English teacher at Olympian High School in the Sweetwater Union High School District, and is a National Board-certified teacher. Rodriquez’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

    This article relates to: Education, Fix San Diego, News, Opinion, Teacher Tenure

    Written by Catherine Green

    Catherine Green is deputy editor at Voice of San Diego. She handles daily operations while helping to plan new long-term projects. You can contact her directly at or 619.550.5668. Follow her on Twitter: @c_s_green.

    John H Borja
    John H Borja subscriber

    The expectations for teachers has changed. Today a teacher is an agile multi-media agent, a rock star, a para legal, a physician's assistant, a psychologist, and a stand-up comedian. Given what is going on at home and the striking contrast of a classroom, teachers are asked to perform for the sake of public relations. Professional? High academic vitae? ....but can you or do you want to teach Kinder, 3rd grade, 8th grade or 12th grade/ Now choose carefully, because your first misstep could be your last.  Most new teachers grab at accepting whatever the school has to offer. Big mistake. It would be better for you to work another few weeks at Taco Bell and live a few more months at home. Most new teachers leave because the school environment and the classroom expectations of the principal are stifling and  not supportive. Remember you can't just leave the kids and go pee, you have to wait for recess, if there is another teacher to "allow" you the change for a bathroom break. San Diego City, in its ultimate wisdom allows for only a 30 minute lunch. Even the most cruel ranch boss gives his cottonpickers an hour. School is over at 2:30. That gives you 30 minutes to extend your paid planning time until...wait for it...3:00 p.m.

    Now, you don't "clock" out, that is too undignified for our Professional Learning Communities(PLC). No, like most of us we're planning and cleaning and snacking until 5. That is why many teachers are overweight...snacking and stress.  During the day, the principal walks in and sees that Suzi, Aaron, and Wendy were not exactly glued to your eminent presentation and asks you to "produce evidence" on how to amend this situation. Three parents approach you after school to complain that their child's feelings were hurt by a comment by another child and that you "yelled at them".  Now your definition of yell and theirs is not insync. Their iphone and your android are not insync. So, all three parents have called the principal, emailed the District Office, and the local paper has been called. This does not happen at Taco Bell. "Eh, you don't like the burrito, uh, here's a new one".  So, for a new teacher, getting $8 bucks an hour sounds a whole lot less stressful than a measly $35k to start. 

    So, you want to dump a bad teacher. Ok. Consider what a bad teacher is. Unless that teacher committed a criminal in class, on campus, on youtube, on FaceBook, on whatever, you have no case.

    Let's face it Encinitas and Solana Beach, you love your teachers. Do you really care what happens to children in Shell Town or San Ysidro? Uh, uh, .....wait for!!! So, people don't climb on the political wagon carrying those that don't really  have a real care for the children in the ghetto.  The teachers in the ghetto will just appreciate the thought that their colleagues are not there and they are. Teachers in the ghetto, for the most part, WANT to be in the ghetto. No one "sent them there". And Obama the Republicans need to know that. Some "support", some cheers, that would be helpful. Don't tell the ghetto teachers that they are substandard. That's mean. That's cruel. 

    Mike subscriber

    Most people would agree that teachers are critical components to a civilized and educated society. They are crucial to a child's success. Yet we pay them almost nothing to do this important work. So how else do we recruit teachers despite their laughable salary? Well, we can rig it so they have good job security. We can give them good benefits. This is the system we live with today. And these inexplicable perks teachers get are results of capping their salary at nothing.

    I'm 100% for reforming the teacher eval system. I'm 100% for firing bad teachers and rewarding good ones. But wait, no one I've seen in the news have said anything about rewarding good teachers. I would love to see a system where an experienced good teacher can make a six-figure salary. That's how we recruit good teachers. Do well, earn a great living. Do ok, earn a decent living, do badly, fired. That's a fair system and that's how every other industry works. I support reforming the system all the way as long as the top teachers get a big pay raise. Otherwise we're just reducing job security from a field that's already unattractive to most smart and ambitious college grads.

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber


    I agree completely.  We need a two-tiered system of teacher pay.

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    Steve Rodriguez' idea is terrific:

    "Teachers should be given the option of either continuing to be evaluated under the current, safe, orthodox process or choosing to be evaluated as teacher-leaders."

     I support his idea of a two-track system for teachers.

    It appears that Mr. Rodriquez envisions these "teacher-leaders" continuing to function as they have in the past.

    I would like to see a more rigorous system for choosing teacher leaders, and I'd like to give them more responsibility and more money.

    But I am thrilled that VOSD has published this opinion piece.  Good for you, editor Sarah Libby!  Also, kudos to Scott and Buzz and Irwin and Rod!

    My only concern about the evaluation process that Steve envisions is that it seems too subjective.  Steve suggests:

     " annual daylong symposium in which teachers presented their portfolio findings to other school principals, community leaders, parents and fellow teachers."
    We know that the same old power groups are going to be influencing the outcomes of that day-long symposium.  Why not have people from outside the district do the evaluations?

    Also, why not have some objective measures along with the totally subjective measures suggested here?

    A video of a single lesson doesn't really tell us how a teacher teaches.  Why not have outside evaluators come in to the teacher's classroom and record facts--such as what people are actually doing in the classroom at a given moment?  I would also suggest that critiques of a teacher's instruction NOT be done by principals, teachers or parents who have a personal or professional relationship (either in the school district or in the teachers union) with the teacher.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    A simple way to evaluate "what [teachers] did to help other teachers" is to make the school's performance as a whole, part of the teacher's evaluation. This will give teachers an incentive to help other teachers in the same way that profit sharing gives employees of a company an incentive to help other employees.

    Eduardo Stephano
    Eduardo Stephano subscriber

    Thanks Steve and VOSD for putting out this perspective. 

    I'm wondering how many leadership positions your average elementary, middle, or high school actually have? There will always be a handful teachers at every school site who will volunteer much of their time to school-wide leadership roles. Although commendable, it doesn't necessarily make them more effective teachers in the classroom. In some cases, it might even take time away from their planning/teaching, as they strive to assist their principals with various school projects. 

    Of course, there are those who can take on leadership roles and be stellar teachers in the classroom as well. These "teacher-leaders" should be encouraged to apply for an alternative evaluations in which the entire staff can benefit.

    I do think it's important for teachers to get out of their own classroom bubbles and collaborate with fellow teachers, administrators, parents and community members whenever possible, and for altruistic purposes. 


    @voiceofsandiego I would like to see you address Common Core as part of the issue with grading teachers

    Eduardo Stephano
    Eduardo Stephano subscriber

    @ksdvm86 @MarioKoran I believe this is more about corporate testing consortiums (i.e. Smarter Balanced) and their idealistically designed tests, then the actual Common Core standards. Also, this what happens when too much emphasis is placed on using standardized test scores to evaluate students, teachers & schools.

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    I looked at the article posted by ksdvm86.  Here's a quote, "Busywork is the name of the game with the Common Core. Kids need to write and rewrite spelling words and sentences until their hands practically fall off..."

    The parent who wrote that should be complaining about the teacher, not Common Core.  This teacher isn't doing a good job.  Common Core does NOT require busywork.  We've known for a long time that writing a word more than three times does not improve the child's ability to spell it.

    Any teacher who creates a stressful atmosphere and then blames it on Common Core should be ashamed.  The teacher should teach good lessons and maintain a healthy learning environment.  Kids enjoy taking tests when they aren't stressed. 

    Anyone who thinks all the kids are going to know all the answers is just being idiotic.  Some kids will do better than others. That's to be expected.

    However, in an ideal world, all kids would have a teacher who does well at teaching.  Teacher quality is the problem, not Common Core.