Strategies to make the evaluation process meaningful

Note: This article was written for the NJEA Review and appears in the September issue. It makes specific reference to teacher evaluation as written into NJ regulation … however, teachers across the US are wrestling with these issues. Although the regulations may vary, the critical concerns do not.

I left the advertising industry to become a teacher. The transition brought an intensive year of graduate school, student teaching and credentialing exams. In a very short time, I went from a luxurious office in Manhattan to a roomful of five-year-olds, just outside Philadelphia. Culture shock is a polite way of describing that change.

As I acclimated myself to the demands of teaching, friends and colleagues from my previous life in advertising would ask about my new job. When I explained that I was teaching kindergarten, the response was almost always the same: “Oh! You must be having so much fun!”

Well, yes, I enjoyed the work. But that’s not what they meant. In their minds, I was sitting on the floor with adorable kids, playing with building blocks, singing songs, and skipping home at 3:25 every afternoon. In reality, I was learning what experienced educators know very well: teaching is an unbelievably demanding job. It is physically exhausting. It is emotionally draining. And it’s incredibly challenging on an intellectual level.

The reaction from folks outside of education is woefully predictable. Teaching kindergartners is intellectually challenging? Well, yes, if you do it right. It relies on knowing content in four major disciplines deeply enough to develop relevant objectives for five-year-olds, while understanding pedagogy deeply enough to relate complex information to young children. My story uncovers a fundamental and crucial problem: those with limited experience in education have very little understanding of the complexity and demands faced by teachers and school leaders. In fact, many policy-makers and public critics believe they know quite a lot about teaching simply because they once went to school. “How hard can it be?” they muse. Sadly, these are many of the same folks who have developed policies around teacher evaluation.

The 2013-14 school year was challenging and frustrating for many educators as the state rushed to implement new evaluation systems too fast and failed to provide the necessary resources. As we begin a new school year, we can continue to work to correct the flaws in the system. At the same time, however, this September provides another opportunity to focus on ways that a thoughtful evaluation process can help us strengthen our skills and ultimately boost student learning.

So, what exactly should you do? Take the following actions so that the evaluation system can be successfully implemented in a fair and productive manner.

1. Deeply understand the model

Everyone—that means everyone—in the system needs to fully understand the evaluative criteria and rubrics that will be used to assess practice. It is not uncommon for districts to focus training on supervisors or a handful of teachers who are expected to inform their colleagues. It is not sufficient to simply select a model (whether it is Danielson, Marshall, Marzano, McREL, Stronge, etc.) and have an in-service day; all teachers and administrators must learn the model and the rubrics deeply enough to apply them in practice. Whether using Webb’s Depth of Knowledge or Bloom’s Taxonomy, applying concepts is a higher-level activity. Therefore, it is not enough to have basic recall of the model and rubrics. It must be something all participants can make meaning with, and relate to, their complex work.

2. Become well versed in the process

While every school district must adhere to policies defined by state regulation, there are still a number of procedural decisions that should be made by the District Evaluation Advisory Committee (DEAC). The committee must include the superintendent, a special education administrator, a parent, a member of the district school board, one or more central office administrators, and representatives from each school level. In addition, the NJDOE website recommends that districts consider expanding this minimum requirement to include more educators whose involvement is important to the success of the evaluation system implementation, such as teacher leaders, association representatives and other teaching staff.

Members of the DEAC should work together to make important procedural decisions beyond the state regulations. For example, after a teacher is observed, will data be shared and discussed prior to assessment? Does the teacher have an opportunity to reflect on practice and contribute to the observation data with meaningful and relevant information? This is considered a best practice in the area of observations, but is often not specified in a district’s procedures around evaluation. Without establishing consistent and well-communicated procedures, teachers and supervisors face in- consistent practices that undermine the potential of an evaluation system to positively impact teaching and learning.

3. Get clarification on the nuances between “onstage” and “offstage”

All models outline teaching practices to be evaluated. All models rely on classroom observations to gather data about those practices. But all of the models also specify behind-the-scenes work that teachers do outside of their interactions with students. These essential characteristics of a teacher’s job are critically important in an overall evaluation. However, the tradition of relying solely on what can be observed during classroom instruction has left most schools woefully unprepared to determine how to evaluate an educator’s behind-the-scenes work.

The DEAC should make recommendations about the assessment of teachers’ planning skills and professional obligations. Teachers need clear descriptions of the artifacts or elements that constitute data representing their behind-the-scenes work. Along with those descriptions, exemplars of effective and highly effective practices help to ensure consistency in rating these critical aspects of a teachers’ work. According to state regulations, these critical clarifications must be conveyed to everyone in the system by Oct. 1 of each year.

4. Learn about the role of student achievement

Student growth objectives (SGOs) should be one of the most teacher-driven aspects of the evaluation system. Too often, this was not the case last year. According to the regulations, they are developed by the teacher in collaboration with the supervisor. While a principal has the final approval of SGOs, it is important to note that the process must begin at the teacher level. SGOs are meant to reflect the growth and performance of a specific group of students, based on their particular abilities and academic needs. It is inappropriate to set goals that are district, school, or even department-wide, since such goals would not reflect the needs of the students for whom a teacher is responsible.

There are two important steps within the SGO process that proved challenging last year; the first involves assessment. The law defines multiple measures as both formal and informal measures and includes in the definition examples of performance assessments, portfolio projects, problem-solving protocols, and teacher- based assessments. These should not be overlooked in favor of standardized or published assessments, particularly if those do not accurately reflect the curriculum being taught throughout the year.

The second step relates to developing baseline information. Since it is important to have an accurate understanding of students in order to develop meaningful goals, a simple pretest given the first week of school often yields insufficient information for setting an appropriate goal. Rather, a collection of information, including grades in past classes, assessments of prerequisite skills, scores on assessments in late September and October, some measure of student engagement including homework completion, class participation, and attendance might all be used to develop goals for a group of students. Best practice would indicate collecting data from multiple sources in order to set goals for students that are both ambitious and achievable.

5. Find your professional voice

We know our students deserve great teachers. Teachers and school leaders deserve a system designed to foster greatness. This can only be accomplished with a collaborative effort to create systems of transparency and fairness. The purpose of teacher evaluation models is to provide common vocabulary and expectations that put a focus on high quality instruction — highlighting it when it’s observed and supporting it when it needs improvement.

Teachers and school leaders must participate in dialogues for learning. This means that the data gathered during an observation or a teacher portfolio of behind-the-scenes work are opportunities to have meaningful conversations about teaching — and not just as fodder for a final “score.” Working together, we can make the evaluation process work for us, and more importantly, for our students.

Recently found … 09/03/2014

    • most of the countries with the best educational results used the same set of techniques to get there. And, second, that the American reform methods were used nowhere else in the world.
    • “We are entirely on the wrong track.”
    • The main thing that works is treating teaching as a profession, and teachers as professionals. That means that teachers are as well paid as other professionals, that they have a career ladder, that they go to elite schools where they learn their craft, and that they are among the top quartile of college graduates instead of the bottom quartile.
    • the cost per pupil in
    • the places with the best educational systems is less than the American system, even though their teachers are far better paid. “They are not spending more money; they are spending money differently,”

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

The NY Times Imagines Successful Schools

Joe Nocera writes:

…most of the countries with the best educational results used the same set of techniques to get there … American reform methods were used nowhere else in the world …We are entirely on the wrong track …

The main thing that works is treating teaching as a profession, and teachers as professionals. That means that teachers are as well paid as other professionals, that they have a career ladder, that they go to elite schools where they learn their craft, and that they are among the top quartile of college graduates instead of the bottom quartile …

…the cost per pupil in the places with the best educational systems is less than the American system, even though their teachers are far better paid. “They are not spending more money; they are spending money differently …

Read the entire piece here.


It’s back-to-school on the east coast … time for back-to-school advice …

  1. Let kids know they belong
  2. Challenge them every day
  3. Support them when they struggle
  4. Celebrate them when they succeed
  5. Repeat steps 1-4

Seems pretty simple, but it’s the most difficult (and important) job in the world.

First day of school, 1967 in Brussels, Belgium.

First day of school, 1967 in Brussels, Belgium.

Seven Key Takeaways From FIT Teaching

Recognize that wrong answers came from somewhere. Dig deeper to find out where they came from. Teachers feel there’s never enough time to remediate for students when they struggle. But, if we can learn to understand the difference between a mistake (when pointed out, a learner knows what to do next) and an error (when pointed out, the learner has no idea what to do next, thus requiring reteaching), then we can spend precious instructional time where it’s most needed. Did a student simply forget to capitalize the first word of the sentence? Or does that student truly not understand punctuation rules? Teachers can maximize their student interaction time when they spend some time analyzing student responses.

Ask students what they are learning, not what they are doing. This seemingly small change in questioning allows a shift in focus that can help teachers better gauge students’ understanding of content. Rather than asking students what they are doing—that is, asking them to explain a task—teachers should ask students what they are learning—that is, asking students to explain the purpose of a task and how they are learning from it. At Health Sciences High and Middle College, where Fisher and Frey teach, staff—and even visitors—regularly ask about learning rather than doing. Try this change in your classroom to see how it shifts the conversation and helps you to better determine your students’ levels of understanding.

Separate compliance from competence. This has huge ramifications for grading practices. Why do we grade every worksheet, homework, or quiz that students turn in? If we grade everything, we are asking students to be compliant (that is, keep up with the work and you’ll get more points). If we focus on students’ mastery of concepts, however, we’ll send an important message: I’m here to help you learn and will only give you a grade when you appropriately demonstrate your competence in this subject.

Automate responses to recurring events.  Principals are faced with daily demands that take away from the time they can spend in classrooms focusing on the teachers and students. More and more, principals are asking the question, “How can I spend more time focusing on instruction in my building?” The answer is to analyze the systems within your school and create automated responses to recurring events. Buses arriving late? Have a response team ready with a standardized checklist of action items. Cafeteria won’t be open for lunch on time? Plan out the response in terms of personnel and schedule revision. Planning for automaticity in a system means that principals can have more time in the classrooms focusing on the most important aspect of their job: instructional leadership.

Establish the purpose of a lesson. Determine what students should learn and why they should learn it. One of the most important ways we motivate learners is by establishing a good reason for the learning to take place. Without a clear goal, students rightly perceive their work in school as artificial, and this may lead to compliance or even defiance. If we instruct without a purpose—or fail to convey that purpose to our students—then we shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t meet the learning target.

Get kids to produce language, not just hear it. Encourage collaborative work using academic vocabulary. Teachers need to scaffold and assess language needs so students can better access content. The Common Core, in fact, asks for students to use rich academic vocabulary. One of the keys ways to support students in learning language and using academic vocabulary is to ask students to produce and practice using language more. Collaborative work time should be used to have students speak and use academic vocabulary. Fisher and Frey recommend that teachers aim to set aside 50 percent of a lesson for collaborative work. While this will not always happen, teachers should always keep in mind that collaborative work, where students are encouraged to communicate and interact, will help students build language skills and increase academic vocabulary usage.

Remember that the gradual release of responsibility does not have to be linear. Many are familiar with the Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR) framework, which articulates how responsibility should be turned over from the teacher to the student. Focus lessons (“I do”) and guided lessons (“we do”) place the responsibility on the instructor, while collaborative work (“you do it together”) and independent work (“you do it alone”) put most of the responsibility on the student. There is a common misconception, however, that this framework is linear—that is, that the different types of instruction have to go in order. In fact, good teachers use formative assessment to pick which element of GRR is needed for individual students and differentiate accordingly. Here is an example from Fisher and Frey’s YouTube channel that shows that the GRR framework does not have to be implemented linearly.

As all of these different take-aways show, participants at the FIT Teaching Academy were able to dig into the FIT Teaching model and consider how it resonates with them. The Academy was a full three days of amazing conversations about current practices and how FIT Teaching can provide an integrated and streamlined approach to make teaching more responsive to student needs. Participants left energized, motivated, and encouraged.

Cross-posted at ASCD In-Service.

Recently found … 08/08/2014

  • tags: team building planning

      • Do:


      • Create regular opportunities to expose your team members to new ideas and perspectives

      • Cultivate a culture where your team feels confident sharing their rough ideas without fear of failure

      • Develop a plan for action by setting aside a modest budget for experimenting with new ideas




      • Host vague brainstorming sessions with grandiose goals; rather, focus your team’s attention toward solving a particular problem

      • Hold up unattainable examples of innovation success; find models that are relatable

      • Persist in using tired business-speak; frame ideas using language that will resonate with your team

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Recently found … 08/07/2014

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.