Another (warning) bite at evaluating teachers

I apologize for the radio silence. Deseret News has changed its blogging format, and I’m still coming up to speed. The new format makes it much easier for me to post your guest blogs, by the way. As I understand the new process better I’ll explain it further, but for now go ahead an email me at

Blog readers know that I favor more rigorous teacher evaluations, but yesterday’s New York Times sounded a warning note that resonated with me. In an article entitled “States Try to Fix Quirks in Teacher Evaluations,” the reporter recounts how rigid and complicated evaluation forms can devour principals’ time AND fail to capture teacher effectiveness.

I don’t think these problems are inevitable, but there’s no doubt that almost every educational reform faces potential strangulation by regulation. One reaction I had to the article is that it reinforces my belief that evaluations should include some measure of student progress – and that such measures protect teachers as well as students and parents.

So, for example, the article begins with a description of how an effective, veteran teacher “earned” a low rating on “breaking students into groups.” The article didn’t say whether she failed to create student groups that day, or whether for some reason it went badly. I’d be curious to know.

What I DO know is that grouping is a fine strategy – for some students, some teachers, some subjects, and under some circumstances. It certainly doesn’t need to feature in every class (and indeed, I think this is an example of where education school theories have run amok.) Moreover, the reality of working with teenagers is that grouping sometimes simply won’t work. I once, for example, made the mistake of putting my concurrent enrollment economics students into groups the day before prom. Oops.

Does it really make sense to make evaluations so process-oriented? Wouldn’t it be more sensible to focus more on results, especially if measurements of results extended beyond simple standardized test scores?

This harks back to my concern over the Utah teaching standards. These standards seem to focus entirely on what a teacher does, and not on how students respond to that teacher’s choices – and learn. I think teachers should be given a great deal of leeway to figure out what works best in their classrooms, for their students, given the teacher’s particular teaching gifts. . . as long as we see the fruits.

Here’s a link to the article.

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