Melissa Tooley is a teacher quality and data analyst at The Education Trust. Melissa’s work at the Ed Trust focuses on evaluating and influencing policy to ensure that all students receive the effective teachers they need and deserve. This is part one in a series of blog posts discussing educator evaluations.
My last blog post reviewed the key components of a well-designed educator evaluation system. But without a strong plan for implementation, even the best-designed systems won’t be game changers for students.
Two factors can make or break an evaluation system’s rollout: how districts and states communicate about the new system, and the type and quality of training they provide to educators on how to deploy the new system. If either is done poorly, states and districts risk alienating educators. And without educator buy-in, no new system can be a strong lever for improving classroom instruction.
Effective communication ensures that teachers, school leaders, and other stakeholders understand and embrace the goal—improving classroom instruction—as well as how the evaluation measures and process will help everyone accomplish that goal. Communication also must be multi-directional: “bottom-up” as well as “top-down.” Administrators in Hillsborough County (Fla.) Schools found that frequently requesting thoughtful feedback from teachers and principals, and responding to that input in a timely manner, were critical for reducing apprehension about their new evaluation system and building good will throughout the district.
Strong communication efforts also focus on developing a thorough understanding of the types of training educators will receive. All educators should be trained on how to fulfill their responsibilities in the new evaluation system. For example, if teachers will be asked to submit a self-evaluation or develop goals to benchmark student learning, they should receive detailed guidance on how to do so, and have opportunities to ask questions for clarity.
Training may be most important for the evaluators. When districts move to new evaluation systems, teachers often express concerns about how capable and consistent the evaluators will be in distinguishing between different levels of instructional practice. To allay these concerns, evaluator training must be comprehensive and provide ample opportunities for trainees to practice using the tools and translating observation ratings into meaningful, constructive feedback for teachers. Before the new evaluators can begin observations, they must be able to demonstrate that they can reliably and impartially review and rate instruction. And teachers need to know that there are processes in place to ensure that ratings remain reliable and impartial.
The demands of improved evaluation systems also require that principals get the specialized support they need to build their own capacity as instructional leaders and coaches. Fresno Unified School District (Cal.) is one example of a school system that recognized this need and invested heavily in training its leaders to be more effective at observing and developing teachers across the district.
Finally, communication about the new evaluation system cannot cease once it has been rolled out. There must be clear processes for ongoing reflection and feedback. For example, Tennessee surveyed school and district leaders as well as teachers during the first year of its new system. The state is now using the results from those surveys to enhance their evaluation model.
Though ongoing reflection is important, states must strike a delicate balance between giving districts the flexibility to refine their systems based on that feedback and maintaining the goal of improving educator effectiveness so that all students in the state can achieve their highest potential. My next post will discuss ways that Oregon and other states can use the results of evaluations to do just that.