By Frank Wells
How would you rate your last job performance evaluation experience? Did it provide useful insights and suggestions to help you do your job even better? Or was it a mere formality with no long-range practicality? Worse, was it a “gotcha” ordeal with an evaluator with an ax to grind?
Mary Rose Ortega
CTA Board member
In an effort to be proactive and help develop a more meaningful and effective evaluation system, CTA established the Evaluation Workgroup last year. The workgroup is composed of leaders serving on a number of CTA State Council committees, other classroom teachers and CTA staff. Since its first meeting last April, the workgroup has consulted a wide array of resources and experts, and is working to make recommendations for an evaluation model that helps educators do their jobs even better.
Certificated evaluation procedures in California have remained largely unchanged since the 1970s, when the state Legislature passed what’s known as the Stull Act. Since then, the only significant changes have been the addition of an option for districts and local associations to bargain the inclusion of standards from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the referral of employees with unsatisfactory ratings to the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) program in districts where it still exists.
Although there are differing opinions on how to improve the evaluation process, almost everyone agrees the current system needs to be improved. Criticisms are numerous — the lack of properly trained administrators, the sometimes staged nature of scheduled observations, the often unrepresentative nature of announced drop-ins, and the lack of meaningful feedback. Many administrators also feel the current system isn’t working and doesn’t really help improve instruction.
CTA members look at the issues
Robert Ellis serves on the workgroup and is also chair of CTA’s Teacher Evaluation and Academic Freedom Committee. He sees numerous flaws in the current evaluation system, including a lack of adequate time involved and a lack of effective cross-disciplinary training for administrators. “The current system focuses on a few very small snapshots in time and isn’t really geared to improving practice,” he says. “We’d like to see an evaluation model that is truly helpful to teachers, one where they can learn and build on what they already know. Evaluation should support good teaching.”
One area of ongoing debate is to what extent, if any, student test scores should be used in teacher evaluation. Although there has been pressure to link test scores to both evaluation and pay, few can agree on how much weight, if any, should be given to those scores. The issue notoriously gained national attention last summer when the Los Angeles Times published an online database ranking of thousands of Los Angeles Unified School District teachers from least to most effective based on their students’ scores. The Times used its own “value-added” model that purported to account for external factors and past student performance.
The outcry from the education community over this public “evaluation” was loud and nearly unanimous. ”What the L.A. Times did was reprehensible,” says Mary Rose Ortega, the CTA Board member who serves as liaison to the workgroup. “They used a badly designed rating system to mislabel thousands of dedicated educators.” Recently the National Education Policy Center released a study confirming that the Times value-added approach was deeply flawed.
Experts weigh in
Diane Ravitch is a policy expert and author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. She has spoken at CTA conferences and was last year’s NEA Friend of Education Award winner. A former undersecretary of education under President George H.W. Bush, Ravitch is opposed to using test score growth to measure teacher effectiveness.
“I have been trying to figure out how a school would function if the advocates of tying test scores to teacher evaluation prevail,” Ravitch wrote in her blog. “At least three years of data would be needed, though five years would be better. At the end of the three-to-five years, the teachers who did not get gains would be fired and replaced by teachers who have no track record at all. Every year, a new group of teachers who had not produced gains would be fired, and another untested group of teachers would take their place.”
Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford professor and nationally recognized education policy expert whom the workgroup has consulted, believes California’s standards tests are particularly unsuited for use in teacher evaluation because they are grade-based and not vertically scaled. She points out that since only the skills for that particular grade are measured, if a teacher brings a sixth-grader initially performing at a second-grade level up to a fourth-grade level, the test won’t show it.
Despite the problems of using test scores for evaluation, federal programs like Race to the Top have encouraged the linkage, and some California lawmakers are supporting legislation that would follow suit. Those approaches are geared toward tying evaluation to pay, or in some cases to firing teachers, as opposed to developing a tool to improve instructional practices.
But if test scores aren’t necessarily the answer, what is? To find out what you think, the workgroup has developed a survey that can be found at surveymonkey.com/s/CTAevalSurvey. A link to the survey is currently on the CTA home page. All certificated CTA members are encouraged to complete the survey and help the workgroup develop recommendations for an evaluation system that works. “Any improvements to the current system CTA proposes are going to be member-driven as well as experience or research based,” says Ellis. “We want to make sure we get this right.”