What’s a Fair and Effective Teacher Evaluation?

[Full Disclosure: I’m an independent marketing consultant who works with ASCD on communicating about their products and stirring up trouble whenever I can.]

Last week, all H E double-hockey-sticks broke loose in the education community when the Los Angeles Times  announced that it was going to publish a series of articles called Grading the Teachers that would ostensibly show “how effective Los Angeles Unified School District teachers have been at improving their students' performance on standardized tests.” The  article that followed the announcement went so far as to identify to the public individual teachers as being “effective” or “ineffective” based on an evaluation method known as “value added” analysis.


Although US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was fine with it, most people remotely related to education were not. Two prominent ASCD authors and commentators Diane Ravitch and Rick Hess, who often don’t see eye-to-eye on school policy-related matters, had no problem agreeing that the LAT’s public outing of teachers was out of line.


Ravitch criticized the LAT for using test scores alone as a basis for teacher evaluation, while Hess said the LAT’s treatment of teachers “confuses as much as it clarifies, puts more stress on primitive systems than they can bear, and promises to unnecessarily entangle a useful management tool in personalities and public reputations.”


A big problem with the LAT’s approach is that the value added methodology really doesn’t work for many reasons, as Daniel Willingham explains here.


Willingham also has a nifty animated video on YouTube that is probably the most easily digestible analysis of the many flaws with value added evaluation.




Despite these misgivings with value added measurements of teachers’ performance, other states appear to be moving ahead with this approach. Part of the reason for this is that the federal government is requiring these types of evaluations in order to qualify for competitive grants such as Race to the Top. So the pressure will continue to build to evaluate teachers based on student test scores, at least in part.


ASCD has been looking at teacher evaluation for years. Ten years ago, two giants in the field Charlotte Danielson and Thomas McGreal wrote Teacher Evaluation for Professional Practice which emphasizes the role of professional development in teacher evaluation. In their third chapter, they explain that an effective teacher evaluation system has “three essential elements:”

”• A coherent definition of the domain of teaching (the ‘What?’), including decisions concerning the standard for acceptable performance (‘How good is good enough?’).

• Techniques and procedures for assessing all aspects of teaching (the ‘How?’).

• Trained evaluators who can make consistent judgments about performance, based on evidence of the teaching as manifested in the procedures.”


Four years later, ASCD published Linking Teacher Evaluation and Student Learning by Pamela D. Tucker and James H. Stronge. Their take is that teacher evaluations, in order to be effective, really need to include “objective data” of student learning, which could include test scores. They look at four different types of evaluation systems that incorporate objective data, including student work samples, standards-based criteria, student goal setting, and yes, value-added assessment. But Tucker and Stronge also point out that

”Accountability should be thought of as a collective responsibility for supporting learning by parents, principals, superintendents, school board members, and teachers, to say nothing of the students themselves. Holding teachers accountable for student achievement without recognition of the roles played by these other partners in the educational process is patently unfair and can amount to scapegoating.”

(emphasis not added)


So, safe to say that these ASCD authors wouldn’t approve of what happened in LA either.


Will the type of incident that happened in LA likely occur again? No doubt, the pressure to implement widespread teacher evaluations isn’t going to go away. But until there’s more clarity about how to do it, these types of public humiliations should not be repeated. And before there are more of these kinds of incidents, educators can develop approaches to teacher evaluation that are more fair and effective. What do you think?


  • Hello,
    My Teaching Training takes place in a health facility, where I am able to work based on the fact that I am a member. I believe the implications of how effective my Teacher-Student outcomes are, may reflect how well I am able to set and plan goals, without there being a real need to demonstrate an authentic advancement. Factors that contribute to being highly motivated are not enough of an affirmative role in the educational performance which we demonstrate will meet academic standards.
    Robben_Wainer, 3 years ago | Flag

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