As accountability increases throughout school districts and states, the topic of teacher evaluations is brought to the forefront. Increasing student academic achievement is the number one priority. Teacher quality has to be the single most important factor to reaching this goal. However, evaluating the quality is also one of the most complicated points in question.
Our current teacher evaluation system has three ratings: satisfactory, needs improvement, and unsatisfactory. By definition satisfactory means: fulfilling expectations or needs; acceptable, though not outstanding. If we are simply allowing the standard of teacher quality to be mediocre, then how can we expect anything more from our students?
Educators from all levels would agree on the need for an improved evaluation system. However, that is not the issue. The issue lies in the “how.” How do we create a process, a criteria, a method, which not only evaluates a teacher, but also helps and supports them as they master the craft? At this point, many see teacher evaluations as an attack on teachers and a method of firing. However, a shift in paradigm is needed. The evaluation should be seen as a barometer for growth and improvement. When a teacher improves, student achievement improves.
The San Fernando Institute for Applied Media (SFiAM), a pilot school that is part of the Los Angeles Unified School District, was created to help shift the current paradigm. The design team, which consisted of teachers, Youth Policy Institute, parents, and community members, all agreed that the ability to select the staff was going to be the most critical aspect to student achievement. The ability to select the staff, coupled with a one-year contract, would make the school stellar. By controlling the quality of the teachers, the quality of education automatically would increase.
As a design team member and teacher at SFiAM, I embrace teacher evaluations, as does our staff. We have added an additional layer to the current evaluation system. We began with peer observations. We believe that we must consistently learn and improve our craft, and what better way than with the support of our peers. As a team, we work on the “how.” How do we improve critical thinking? How do we improve the application of skills and knowledge? As a team, we strive for excellence and we continue to refine and develop our methods.
So what do I want to be judged on? It is definitely not a single test score on a standardized test. Many of my students come to me two to three grade levels behind. I’m not a miracle worker and I only have about eight months before they take that exam. Therefore, they will not score Proficient. Does that mean that I didn’t teach them? To those who are not in the education field and are simply looking at that test score, that’s exactly what that would mean. To the rest of us, we know that a student’s progress and development takes time and it takes an effective teacher to close that gap. We also know that a student’s progress must be measured through multiple formats and a single exam is not enough.
We also know that if a student has an ineffective teacher, the achievement gap simply gets larger. Therefore, the need to effectively hold teachers accountable is understood, but again, who determines the process and the criteria?
The people most qualified to determine the process and the criteria are teachers. We cannot leave this to the bureaucrats and politicians who are not in the trenches of education. We must push beyond the rhetoric to find solutions. We must also push beyond the basic concepts on a test and cultivate a passion for learning. We must foster an environment for life-long learning for teachers and students. We must provide each other with the necessary support to grow, to develop, and to achieve beyond the current expectation of mediocrity.