[Sharing a letter I wrote to my TLN friend and recent guest blogger, Susan (Ernie) Rambo].
I'm fairly impressed with the work of the work of our colleagues in the Denver New Millennium Initiative on their new report on teacher evaluation. The report couldn't have come at a better time for me, as I'm involved with work on teacher evaluation right now on several levels both within my state and nationally. This is one of the most articulate and most provocative set of teacher views on this topic that I've seen so far. Clearly, the group is working with an eye to the political realities of their own state, but also with their hearts towards what's best for students, and their thinking grounded in the wisdom of practice informed by carefully analyzed research.
For example, the four issues (p.6) they identify as critical to developing an effective teacher evaluation system, to me highlight the practical wisdom teachers bring to this discussion, especially, item #2: Qualifications and training of the evaluators. Their treatment of this point later in the report reminds me of how evaluators are trained for the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards scoring process, and I suspect they drew heavily from that model.
As teachers, the group also recognizes the dual role of an effective evaluation system (p. 10), and this is a point that needs more stress in the current education reform discussion. Schools and districts cannot use a "fire-and-replace" approach to reach the goal of consistently high quality teachers for all children. Helping teachers to identify strengths and weaknesses and providing ongoing support to address those weaknesses and share those strengths should be the primary focus of our teacher evaluation systems. Doing so would not only lessen the possibility of incompetent teachers remaining in the profession, but significantly reduce the amount of mediocre, overly scripted, or trial-and-error teaching occurring in schools across the country.
Also, as a member of the Teaching 2030 TeacherSolutions team, I especially appreciate the Denver group's suggestion about the role of "professional guilds" in the teacher evaluation process. One of the reasons I pursued National Board certification myself was to get serious feedback from highly accomplished peers on my work, and their suggestions for how I could improve my work. I love Vinnie Basile's projection (p.10) of how such a guild might work. This is one of the key roles I envision for teachers' unions as they reconfigure themselves to serve our profession in the new century.
I wonder how many policymakers or others will understand just how powerful The Goal Attainment Process described on pg. 8 is for actually reaching the goal of putting a quality teacher in every classroom? The suggested evaluation process would require teachers to demonstrate a critical professional pedagogical skill: the ability to develop, analyze, and use assessments at the classroom level. In this step, teachers would have to demonstrate how they connect what's going on in individual classrooms to the larger school and district goals. Also, the suggestion for a statewide assessment database (p.8) of teacher made assessments and how to handle the use of that database, particularly in the non-standardize tested areas, is brilliant and squares with practices from our most advanced competing nations in the area of education.
Of course, the most contentious issue around teacher evaluation is the use (or not) of student standardized test data to determine teacher performance. I've noticed how many teachers not only don't oppose, but expect the use of student test data as part of their professional evaluations. This contradicts many of the media-touted education reformers who claim teachers are afraid of these tests for our own selfish reasons. However, like most teachers, the Denver NMI also point out the very real dangers and limitations of excessive testing and over-reliance on test data, even as they (and I) look forward to "more robust student assessments" (5). The group seems to take the position that neither the tests nor the data is the problem, but rather how both are being misused.
The group's response to current attempts at using value-added measures in determining teacher performance, also, shows how thoughtful and fearless these teachers are. Despite the clearly documented flaws in these measures, the group doesn't advocate throwing out test data completely, but rather calls for more appropriate and effective ways to use it, and they emphasize that can only be done in partnership with teachers. It's a professional and principled stance; after all, standardized tests have been around a long time and some educators have found them more useful than others. Unfortunately, such student-centered logic may be hard to hear over the racket of racing to reform and the cheering of a billion-dollar testing industry.
Just as I finished writing this, I noticed fellow TLN blogger Bill Ferriter had posted his take on the report, so I hope this signals the start of much more discussion both within TLN and around the nation on the ideas Denver NMI has put forward. As many states and districts rush to "do something" about teacher evaluation, it's truly important that professional teachers step up and bring much needed light to this heated debate. Can't wait to hear what you see in the report, and where you think it might take us.