A dirty little secret – teachers hate to be observed by their supervisors, it’s usually mechanical and compliance-directed, and, supervisors hate to observe teachers, they’re not very good at it, they think it’s time consuming and not productive.
If you peruse the ten model teacher evaluation plans (APPR) on the State Ed web site, the plans average about 100 pages each, they all call for one announced and one unannounced observation, as a minimum. (With six observations for probationary teachers).
No change from the practice in most schools.
If you are among the 79% of teachers who do not teach classes in grades 3-8 in which English and Mathematics is tested by the Pearson-developed state tests you will measured by school district developed Student Learning Objectives (See sample on the State web site here). If you’re a high school teacher teaching a class ending in a regents examination a September pre-test and the June regents as a summative test will determine your score for the 20%.
Teaching in a high achieving school, no problem, in a low achieving school, you better make sure you frame those SLOs carefully.
In the Spring a member of the Regents Research Fund, a 501(c) 3 that works with/leads, depending on your point of view, presented the findings of the technical committee, The American Institute for Research (AIR), highly regarded research institution, ran the 10-11 state tests to predict the percentages of teacher in the HEDI categories. Six percent of teacher fell in the ineffective category and the teachers were evenly spread across districts, not concentrated in low performing schools. Unfortunately the PowerPoint is no longer on the Regents web site.
We also know that the scores are unstable – they vary widely from year to year – teachers teach different grades and there are different kids in a teacher’s class. (Read TC professor Aaron Pallas comments here)
It looks like about one or two percent of teachers will fall in the ineffective category for two consecutive years.
We would expect from the results of a study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) that classroom observations track closely with value-added (VAM) teacher scores.
The report is one of the first to provide research-based evidence showing that new teacher observation tools, when accompanied by thoughtful evaluation systems and professional development, can effectively measure teacher effectiveness and provide teachers with feedback on the factors that matter for improving student learning.
Do supervisors have the skills to be “thoughtful” observers of lessons?
Do they have the ability, and desire, to provide effective, on-going professional development?
The current issue of the American Educator, the magazine of the American Federation of Teachers explores effective school leaders in high poverty schools.
In study the authors noted,
Over the years [we] found that although the schools shared many characteristics and core practices the most important constant among them was that they had highly effective principals.
The researchers ask a basic question,
What about these leaders guide their schools to success? What beliefs and competencies do they bring to the job?
The answer the authors discovered is not surprising,
Most were teachers for huge chunks of their careers…. deeply steeped in the classroom and the world of instruction…. They respect teachers as professionals and help them hone their craft and their critical eye to see what is working and what is not.
An elementary school principal in Brooklyn told me, “I call it instructional rounds, every day I walk the building spending a few minutes in every classroom, I greet the students, ask them a few questions. For the newer teacher I might spend a little more time and offer a suggestion.” The teachers told me, “We have nothing to hide – she’s always welcome – we have school-wide dialogue on what seems to be working and what needs an adjustment.”
Another principal, in a secondary school, “I sit in on two or three lessons every day – for about ten to fifteen minutes – and as I observe I frame questions, not criticism, and email them to the teacher – teachers answer and we have a dialogue. I try and meet with the teacher, maybe in the hallway to follow up on the dialogue and I encourage the staff to follow up during common planning time. I want to foster a climate of self-exploration and experimentation.”
Unfortunately these are exceptions.
In too many schools teachers are isolated. They spend day after day with the kids they teach with very little professional contact with colleagues. Formal observations once or twice a year followed by a rote letter – a few commendations, a few suggestions, ending with the line, “This was a satisfactory lesson.”
For the teacher the experience is anxiety-filled, (“What if the kids misbehave?”), for the supervisor, an onerous, mechanical task. (“There are reports I have to finish”).
New York City has chosen the Charlotte Danielson Frameworks as the lens to view and assess a lesson. Whether or not the supervisor, the observer, has the training to be a skilled evaluator utilizing the rather dense frameworks is a key question. Danielson wants each observer to pass a test before they are able to assess lessons.
An irony is that Danielson’s other book, “Talk About Teaching,” is far more valuable than the frameworks tome. View a six minute video – an interview with Danielson – about a course to train observers and teachers in the “talk about teaching,” the process, as Danielson calls it, the “intellectual activity” that surrounds any discussion about teaching and learning.
New York State has created a deeply flawed, enormously expensive system that has nothing to do with improving instructional practice.
Liz Phillips, the principal of PS 321 in Brooklyn for thirteen years, at a panel discussion, was sharply critical of the APPR system. “Same principal, same teachers, same kids, our school moved from a percentile in fifties to nineties and back to the fifties. If one or two kids in a class of 25 do poorly on the test it results in wide swings in percentile grades.” Phillips was even more critical of the Teacher Data Reports, individual teacher reports based on state test scores. “The swings from year to year are enormous and in my judgment do not reflect teacher effectiveness.”
Assemblyman Jim Brennan introduced legislation to bring more sense to the original APPR legislation,
One is to create a pilot period to assess the law and the other to correct an obvious harshness in the law.
provides that annual performance reviews shall not be
utilized for employment decisions until the two thousand fifteen two thousand sixteen school year
Provides that the process of annual professional performance reviews must ensure that no teacher or principal who receives a developing rating in all three subcomponents can receive an overall rating of ineffective
Hopefully the governor will realize that, in the words of Aaron Pallas, “We can’t fire our way to excellence.”