Op-Ed: This Is What’s Wrong With Teacher Evaluations

Jatish Marsh, a middle-school teacher and Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow, shares how teacher evaluations can be improved.

Teacher evaluations are a controversial issue all across the country. (Photo: Glow Images, Inc)

As I write this article, debates and arguments surrounding teacher evaluations rage from coast to coast. While the introduction of a new teacher evaluation in Georgia hasn’t garnered the same amount of attention as New York or Los Angeles, it’s equally important.

Professional teacher organizations had some input in the early development phases of the newest teacher evaluation, but Georgia does not allow collective bargaining for teachers. Therefore, the state can implement a new teacher evaluation without much discussion. Because of this, I find myself in my seventh year of teaching and third teacher evaluation system. 

If I had more of a say, here is what I'd like to see from an evaluation system. First, teachers should be made fully aware of the standards and expectations we need to meet. Second, we must receive clarity around specific evaluation measures. And third, we need to receive feedback that will help us improve our teaching.

Standards and Expectations

I want to be fully informed of the measures on which I am to be evaluated. Before becoming a teacher, I worked in corporate marketing. Each year I would sit down with my manager and determine the areas I wanted my performance to be judged. At the end of the evaluation year, I would make my case for a particular evaluation score by giving examples of how I demonstrated competency. The measure by which I was judged was never a surprise.

Many states are adding student surveys as a component of teacher evaluations. There are arguments for and against this movement. I accept the fact that student surveys are a reality in Georgia, but it comes down to communicating this new measure to teachers. In life outside of the K-12 environment, those with customer service positions are often very aware of the actions they need to demonstrate to get positive feedback.

I have no idea what survey questions my students will be asked. When I call into various customer service call centers, agents are aware I may participate in a survey after my call and ask if they have met various needs. Shouldn’t teachers be given the same consideration?

Clarity Around Evaluation Measures

Like many teachers, I currently teach a subject with no state test. In non-state tested subjects, districts are to develop their own assessments to determine student achievement, known as Student Learning Objectives. Our evaluation system dictates that my students have Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) from the district.

The evaluation period is more than half way over for this school year and I am still unaware of the SLOs for my subject area. I have heard other teachers say their Specific Learning Objectives are divorced from grade-level standards and are inappropriate for their students’ age level. I do not believe there has not been enough discussion and action around SLOs in my state.  Specific Learning Objectives cannot be a footnote if evaluation instruments are to be valid and reliable instruments to determine teaching effectiveness.

In an ideal setting, teacher evaluations would actually inform instructional practice and help teachers improve.

Improvement

In an ideal setting, teacher evaluations would actually inform instructional practice and help teachers improve. The most valuable feedback I have received has come from classroom observations where my observers had experience teaching my particular subject/grade. They gave me specific guidance that I was able to include in my classroom and improve my instruction.

I have found the feedback subject matter experts give lends itself to use with the state-mandated class standards. Timely and useful feedback from observers is key.

I have often seen evaluations used as checklists that task administrators have been given to complete. I believe that most administrators would love to be in a position to provide more feedback to teachers. However, states, districts and even individual schools are giving administrators more complex evaluations to complete without taking other tasks off their plates so evaluations can be meaningful and have the desired effects.

Change is inevitable in education and life and I am open to meeting the challenge my newest evaluation system has outlined. I just want the new system to be clearly defined and to generate feedback that improves teaching and learning.

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