Teacher Accountability

We looked at a range of questions when discussing the current issue of “teacher accountability” during our dialogues on April 11.  Efforts to evaluate teaching have been a focus of the federal “Race to the Top” initiative as well as recent efforts in the state legislature.  One of the first things we discussed was the phrase “teacher accountability” or the focus on “teacher quality” as opposed to “quality teaching” or a broader look at the educational adequacy of the system which would include a review of whether appropriate standards are in place and the system is adequately administered.  If standards don’t really relate to good learning opportunities then we should not be using them to evaluate quality of teaching!  Nor should teachers bear the full weight of ensuring the adequacy of our education systems.  For more on how to look at teaching quality systemically, see this Stanford University Report, “Creating A Comprehensive System for Evaluating and Supporting Effective Teaching.”

We considered the importance of evaluating teachers to provide feedback, ensure basic skills, promote ongoing learning and professional development and promote dialogue.  Although media discussion often focuses on replacing “failing teachers”, one focus of evaluation could just as well be to  recognize excellence, retain excellent teachers, and help disseminate “best practices”.  Evaluation tools need to reflect differences in experience and student populations taught. As in any good business, teachers should expect their individual reviews to be confidential, to obtain needed support, and to be fairly treated. Reviews should not come down to a single measure and should be based on more than one observation  We also discussed some of the reasons evaluation has been resisted in the past – bias of the individual reviewing, no clear goals, not clear standards, and disconnects between what is measured and what is being taught.

 Columbia, by adopting the common core standards, and implementing collaborative learning communities has helped to minimize some  of the problems with bias or inconsistency in evaluating teacher.  Currently our teachers have a formal annual evaluation over their first five years and this incorporates lesson design and delivery.  Both coordinators and principals observe in the classroom and provide feedback.  Each teacher prepares a professional enrichment plan which helps them set individual goals and also a self-evaluation.  Teachers who are evaluated as needing extra help or further training prepare a “professional improvement plan” and the implementation of that is monitored.  See below for additional resources.

We also noted that discussions of “teaching quality” could provide more opportunities for parents and students to be heard and provide input, while still ensuring that fair treatment of the teacher.  See this summary on using Student Feedback for ideas on how this might be incorporated.

 Additional Resources as Noted Above

1. Additional Resources

  • Resource 1: Trends and Early Lessons on Teacher Evaluations and Effectiveness Policies by State of the States, published by The National Council on Teacher Quality
  • Resource 2: New Assessments for Improved Accountability by The Hamilton Project
  • Resource 3: A Synthesis of Research on Principal Influence to Inform Performance Evaluation Design by the American Institute for Research
  • Resource 4: Position on Special Education Teacher Evaluation by the Council for Exceptional Children