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Time to Rethink Our Less-Than-'Satisfactory' Teacher Evaluation System

A new evaluation process must take into consideration all major components of a teacher’s job, highlighting those who play leadership roles on campus and putting a new premium on innovation.

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.

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.

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