Rethinking Teacher Evaluation for the Competency-Based Grading & Reporting Environment
Introduction: Rethinking the Effectiveness of the Dog & Pony Show Model
During my first three years as a high school math teacher in Massachusetts back in the early 2000s, I had grown accustomed to having an administrator in my classroom observe as I taught a math lesson. As a new teacher I was required by district policy to be observed at least three times per year. Both my administrator and I knew how the drill worked: We would pick a date and a class for me to be observed. We would meet in advance to talk about what I was planning to teach. During my observation I would make sure to use innovative teaching strategies or cooperative learning activities with my students. We would meet after the lesson to talk about what went well and where I could improve. The administrator would write up a narrative, I would sign it, and it would be filed away. The process would then repeat, and repeat, and repeat. Over my first three years I had nine observations. Once I reached my fourth year, I was considered tenured and thus my observations went down to one every other year. This means it would have taken me an additional eighteen years of teaching before I would have completed another nine observation cycles.
I don’t think my experience in this regard is unique, as many school districts used and still use a model very similar to this one. As I reflect back on that experience as a new teacher, years later, I don’t think I ever remember actually using anything that came from my evaluations as a way to improve my own teaching. Don’t get me wrong, my pre- and post-conferences always yielded great advice. My administrator and I always had great discussions about my lessons. We never really talked about my teaching. What I did on a day-to-day basis as a teaching professional to impact the lives of my students wasn’t easily observable during the dog and pony show, the name I had given for the act of preparing an observable lesson that would showcase all the innovative teaching strategies I could cram into a ninety-minute block.
In my role as a principal in a high school that has made a dramatic shift in philosophy to one of a competency-based grading and reporting system, I have come to appreciate the need for a better teacher evaluation model in order to sustain all we are doing on behalf of kids. We say in my school district that the time has come for schools to rethink the dog and pony show model and ask themselves four questions. Hopefully these look familiar because DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, and Many (2006) encourage teachers to ask these same questions of students as part of the Professional Learning Community (PLC) model:
1. What indicators represent the knowledge base for teaching?
(The PLC question is: What is it we expect students to learn?)
2. How will we collect evidence that identifies a teacher’s professional growth and expertise?
(The PLC question is: How will we know when students have learned it?)
3. How will we respond when a teacher needs support?
(The PLC question is: How will we respond when students don’t learn?)
4. How will we recognize and utilize teacher expertise?
(The PLC question is: How will we respond when they already know it?)
Teacher Competencies: What indicators represent the knowledge base for teaching?
Educational researchers and experts such as Danielson (2007) and Marzano (2011) offer schools comprehensive teacher evaluation models that include a variety of teacher competencies that identify all the enduring professional skills teachers should know and be able to do. Where most schools fall short in their efforts to implement these models is they put far too much focus on the competencies that connect to the classroom – the ones that are easily observable during a dog and pony show. By doing so, they miss the opportunity to provide teachers with meaningful feedback on all the other areas of their professional responsibilities such as how they collaborate with their colleagues, how they plan for instruction, how they use assessment, how they communicate with parents and students, and how they use professional development as a means for continuous growth.
Danielson (2007) refers to these professional responsibilities as domain 4 in her model. Marzano (2011) addresses them as separate but individual appendices in his model. Both experts identify clearly articulated teacher competencies and rubrics to measure teacher effectiveness in these important areas. As schools make the transition to competency-based systems, the ability to measure teacher effectiveness in non-classroom professional responsibilities becomes all the more critical to the success or failure of the assessment model.
Formative and Summative Evaluations: How will we collect evidence that identifies a teacher’s professional growth and expertise?
In my school, we have come to understand that the success of our competency-based model relies on our ability to be highly effective at three big ideas, which we refer to as our three pillars:
• Learning Communities: Our learning communities work interdependently to achieve successful student performance for which we are collectively responsible and mutually accountable. Our teacher evaluation model provides teachers with feedback on their ability to collaborate with their colleagues as part of their professional learning community team(s).
• Student Engagement: Our students are engaged in learning and performance tasks that measure mastery of competency. Our teacher evaluation model assesses a teacher’s effectiveness in promoting the district philosophy for competency-based assessments and their ability to align their assessment practices with our established common grading procedures.
• Climate and Culture: We foster a school culture for all stakeholders that promotes respect, responsibility, ambition, and pride. In our teacher evaluation model, we look for ways to use evaluation as a coaching tool and we look for ways to use master teachers as mentors and professional resources for developing teachers.
In a competency-based model, a formative assessment is an assessment for learning and can be broadly described as a snapshot or a dipstick measure that captures a student’s progress through the learning process. A formative assessment explains to what extent a student is learning a concept, skill, or knowledge set. In a sense, a formative assessment is practice and is, therefore, not heavily weighted in the grading system. At our school, formative assessment cannot be weighted more than 10% of an overall course grade. Thinking along these same lines, what formative assessment do we offer our teachers? In an effective teacher evaluation model, administrators should be regularly offering teachers formative feedback on their progress towards becoming a highly effective teacher. Feedback can be collected using a walk-through observation protocol, by examining a teacher’s online grade book or online professional development portfolio, or by offering them feedback after observing them in meetings with parents and colleagues. The key to making formative assessments effective in a teacher evaluation model is to collect a lot of data and provide feedback but NOT to make a judgment based on just that formative data. As soon as an administrator makes a judgment and draws a conclusion based on one piece of formative data alone, the evaluation becomes a summative evaluation. That should happen only after sufficient formative evidence has been collected.
In a competency-based model, a summative assessment is a comprehensive measure of a student’s ability to demonstrate the concepts, skills, and knowledge embedded within a course competency. It is an assessment of learning that is heavily weighted in a grading system. At my school, summative assessments are linked to course-based competencies and include things like research projects, presentations, labs, writings, tests, and other similar performance tasks. They are weighted at least 90% in the calculation of a final course grade. Summative assessments in the teacher evaluation model looks very similar. At my school it happens for most teachers at the end of a 3-year cycle and includes a reflection and evaluation on all of the data points that were collected during the cycle on a teacher’s ability to perform all the classroom and non-instructional competencies that our district has identified to measure an effective teacher. Summative evaluations include both teacher self-reflection and a meeting with an administrator to make sense of all the data collected and determine how it can be used to measure a teacher’s ability to perform their professional responsibilities. Some teachers receive summative evaluations more often than every three years for a variety of reasons that relate to the support that they need. This is a topic for the next section of this article.
Coaching & Improvement Plans: How will we respond when a teacher needs support?
In a competency-based model when our students aren’t making progress, we don’t give them the option to take a zero. We don’t wait until the course has ended and the student has failed to offer them remediation and support. If we did this, as DuFour & DuFour (2006) suggest, we would be no better than the doctor who performs a medical autopsy to determine why a patient died rather than treating the patient for their illness with therapy and medication while they were still alive. In a competency-based model we incorporate things like response to intervention strategies, reassessment opportunities, and competency/credit recovery programs because we recognize that students learn at different rates and our job as educators is to provide them with multiple opportunities to demonstrate what they know and are able to do. Administrators need to take a similar approach when working with developing teachers as part of a teacher evaluation model. Here are a few things for administrators to consider:
1. Work with a developing teacher to identify appropriate goals and ways to measure them. Some goals should come from the teacher, some from the team that the teacher is a part of, but many should come from the administrator. All should be based on the district’s philosophies and vision.
2. Pair developing teachers with master teachers who can act as mentors. The mentor-mentee relationship can be formal or informal as long as both parties agree it is to be used as a coaching model for a specific purpose.
3. Collect lots of data and share it regularly with the developing teacher. One cannot draw conclusions without sufficient data.
4. Don’t be afraid to use an improvement plan as a way to focus a developing teacher on the things that will make them more effective. Oftentimes administrators are reluctant to develop improvement plans for teachers and teachers are reluctant to participate when both parties believe the plan will be used to document the steps taken to ultimately remove an under-performing teacher from their job. When done correctly, improvement plans should be able to help save far more teachers from ever reaching the point of no return.
Supporting Master Teachers: How will we recognize and utilize teacher expertise?
Both Danielson (2007) and Marzano (2011) are somewhat vague when it comes to describing what moves a teacher from meeting a standard to exceeding that standard in their evaluation models. Marzano has gone on to suggest that the specifics of what criteria should be used to define this should be developed by individual schools and school districts, but with some suggestions from the experts. Districts should work with teachers to define this criteria as well as a system to identify what makes a master teacher.
Marzano (2011) talks at length about the power of master teachers and their ability to do things for a school district like lead instructional rounds, function as expert coaches, and work with district administrators to set policy for teacher evaluation and engage in teacher evaluation. He uses phrases like “with-it-ness” to describe an effective teacher’s ability to use their instincts to make for powerful learning experiences for children. Schools and school districts should not miss the opportunity to give all teachers, regardless of years of service, a higher standard to strive for.
At our school, we are just in the early process of identifying what it means to exceed the teaching standards. We have just begun to talk about what a master teacher is and how a master teacher can support the initiatives and vision of our school and use their expertise to positively impact the professional development of developing teachers. It is an exciting topic that I anticipate will help us advance our vision of learning for all, whatever it takes, in the years to come.
Danielson, C (2007). Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching. Alexandria, VA: ASCD
DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R. and Many, T. (2006) Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press
Marzano, R. (2011). Effective Supervision: Supporting the Art and Science of Teaching. Alexandria, VA: ASCD
Brian M. Stack is the National Association of Secondary School Principals 2017 New Hampshire Secondary School Principal of the Year. He is Principal of Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, NH, an author for Solution Tree, and also serves as an expert for Understood.org, a division of the National Center for Learning Disabilities in Washington, DC. He lives with his wife Erica and his five children Brady, Cameron, Liam, Owen, and Zoey on the New Hampshire seacoast. You can follow Brian on Twitter @bstackbu or visit his blog.