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Book Review                                 Page 44

 

Getting Teacher Evaluation Right

What Really Matters for Effectiveness and Improvement

Book Review - Getting Teacher Evaluations Right

by Linda Darling-Hammond, Teachers College Press, N.Y., 2013, 178 pp., $23.36 softcover

Is the main purpose of public schools to pass on to the next generation what we have learned in the past, summarized in curriculum standards? Linda Darling-Hammond’s position on teacher evaluation evolves from that purpose.

Much to Darling-Hammond’s credit, her new book, <I>Getting Teacher Evaluation Right,<I> is devoted to explaining problems with evaluating teachers based on student achievement gains on state tests. As she explains, these evaluation results are unstable, unattributable to an individual teacher and not comparable between teachers teaching different grades and subjects.

Measuring the value-added by a teacher would require knowing not only how much students have learned in a given year, but also the rates at which those particular students learn, the author explains. Then too, students would need to be randomly assigned to teachers, as a teacher assigned to a class of low-achieving students with a history of discipline problems could not be expected to produce achievement outcomes comparable to a class of high-achieving, well-mannered students.

Recognizing these problems, the author recommends teacher evaluation based on multiple measures of learning. But wouldn’t this compound the error? I wish she would have stayed with an earlier statement regarding the need for teachers to collect, examine, interpret and use evidence about student learning to plan effective instruction. That focuses on student achievement without adopting a competitive approach to ranking teachers.

By requiring teachers to maintain verifiable assessments of student achievement on district-approved pre-defined curriculum standards, the discrepancy between student grades and standardized test scores would likely be reduced. When students are not achieving required curriculum standards, a teacher needs to provide follow-through assistance. It is essential for all teachers to know how well students are doing and at least provide remedial instruction for students who fall behind. Those components, when combined with specific job requirements, separate unsatisfactory teachers from the vast majority. They provide principals with the necessary data so a teacher and principal can meet for the purpose of continuous instructional improvement.

As the author explains, a good teacher evaluation system has to be manageable and feasible, and not so complex that it overwhelms participants with requirements and paperwork. A good teacher evaluation system must weed out the worst teachers, use judgments that go beyond mere personal opinion and facilitate public accountability. It should protect and encourage teacher ingenuity, creativity and initiative.

What good is a teacher evaluation system that is so bothersome and intrusive that it destroys the dedication of the vast majority of teachers in order to build a case against a few? Darling-Hammond quotes Will Shelton, a middle school principal describing the new Tennessee evaluation policies, which he says “put everyone under stress, are divisive, and suck the joy out of a building.”

In sum, I think Darling-Hammond has almost got teacher evaluation right. How to consider student learning in determining a teacher’s competence is not simple. Schools pass on to the next generation what we have learned in the past, but they also seek to develop the unique talents of each child. What is needed is a procedure that makes sure teachers are using data to inform their teaching, but which also encourages teachers to use their professional freedom to develop the unique talents of each child. Fortunately, time for teachers to facilitate individual student talent will increasingly be available as more of the first purpose is taught via computer-assisted instruction.

Reviewed by Louis Wildman, professor of educational administration, California State University-Bakersfield

 

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