Proof Your Teacher Evaluation is Meaningless

It’s bad enough that part of teachers’ evaluations are based on student growth. This growth, usually based on just a few poorly designed assessments and for which students are not personally held accountable, can be affected by a number of factors completely outside the control of the teacher, such as student attendance, motivation, technical issues, and whether or not a kid remembered his glasses or whether or not mom remembered his medication on the critical day.

But even more egregious is that a large percentage of a teacher’s evaluation comes from administrator observations.

A principal is given a huge checklist of “best practices,” and is supposed to assess the teacher in real-time on each of them. They might do this a couple of times each year. Of the more than 1,000 hours that teachers do their jobs in a year, their evaluation may rest on just 80 minutes of observed teaching. In other words, a teacher’s entire year is judged on about one-tenth of one percent of her efforts.

That’s not the worst of it. Because in the case of observations, it’s not what districts are doing that proves teacher evaluations are meaningless. It’s what districts are not doing.

What Districts Won’t and Never Will Do

See if you can imagine your district doing the following:

On a day in May, say a week or two before you are to receive your end-of-year evaluation, the entire staff is invited to a one-hour professional development session. The topic is “Why Your Teacher Evaluation is Credible.” You all gather inside the high school auditorium. A huge screen is hung over the stage. In the front row sits every administrator the district employs.

The Superintendent walks to the microphone and says, “Valued educators, we know that many teachers feel stress over their evaluations. Today, we are going to alleviate some of that stress. We want you to know that the tool we use to evaluate you produces consistent results, no matter who uses it.

To prove it to you, we are all going to watch a 40-minute video of a lesson. In this case, you’ll be seeing a sixth grade social studies class. Each administrator will complete an observation–just like they do for all of you–while they watch the video. When the lesson ends, I will collect each principal’s observation and I will show them to you. That way, you will see that no matter who uses the tool it produces very similar results. You’ll know that your teacher evaluation is a true reflection of your abilities as an educator, and not the subjective result of an unproven process that encourages you to employ different strategies based solely on the whims and preferences of the person who happens to be your supervisor this year.”

At which point the video starts and the principals start tapping things on their iPads.

The fact that none of the above happens in any district I know of (and never will) tells teachers everything they need to know about the objectivity of the observations they’re forced to endure and are asked to believe in.

If you have a system that relies on the opinions and values of the individuals doing the scoring then you have a system that can’t be trusted.

Treat Teachers Like Gymnasts

Gymnastics recognizes this. Gymnastics, like teaching, is more art than science. Two people watching the same routine can honestly disagree about which was better. That’s why gymnasts are scored by multiple judges who have deep knowledge of the sport and receive rigorous training on how to evaluate routines. They’re given strict guidelines and add points for required elements and difficulty, while deducting for execution and artistry.*

And still they don’t agree. That’s why the high and low scores are thrown out and the rest are averaged. FIG recognizes that relying on the judgment of one person ruins the credibility of their sport. No viewer would trust the results of a gymnastics competition that was judged by a single person. The gymnasts wouldn’t trust those results, either.

Neither should teachers. It says something that we care more about getting it right for gymnasts than for teachers. It says something that school districts will never allow its teachers to see how subjective their administrators’ observations truly are. It says something that American teachers’ jobs are in the hands of one judge, who bases his or her evaluation on one-tenth of one percent of a teachers’ working hours.

One judge.

Better hope you don’t get the Russian.**


* I simplified Olympic gymnastics’ scoring for ease of reading.

** I’ve got nothing against Russians, except that they cheat in the Olympics.


I wrote more about teacher evaluations here:

Why You Shouldn’t Care About Your Teacher Evaluation


If you’d like to join the Teacher Habits Club and start receiving new articles in your inbox, click HERE.


I am, once again, partnering with Angela Watson to help promote her 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club. It’s an online professional development program that has already helped more than 32,000 teachers take control of their time and stay focused on what matters most. The next cohort starts in July, and the Club has been updated to cover emerging best practices for the changes ahead. Click here to join!

5 Replies to “Proof Your Teacher Evaluation is Meaningless”

  1. As a former gymnast, gymnastics coach and a teacher for 38 years, this is probably the most spot on article about teacher evaluations I have read. In my career I was ” evaluated” by no less than 15 administrators, only one of which had been a science teacher. One even refused to observe me in lab( I taught biology and chemistry) as she said the lab didn’t fit the model they were using and my classes did lab 2-4 days a week! As for the others, a couple had taught more than the 3 years required in WI to get an admin. license, so they could offer some constructive feedback. Those two did provide some interesting professional discussions. Experience was the key. The more classroom years they had the more respect they had for their teachers and the more valuable the professional feedback became. In men’s collegiate gymnastics, the judges evaluate routines in all 6 events. The argument can be made, just as in gymnastics, that administrators can evaluate in several disciplines. Fair enough, however, experience in a field ( say rings) and more of it, makes for a better judge.

  2. That’s very interesting and I agree it’s to bad that we can’t get the buy in of our state government.
    However, there is one question I would ask. Say you get evaluated by your administration, same person, but then you didn’t like what she put down and matter of fact you she lied. So you request another evaluation and send somebody from district. That’s over that program and yes they give you a little better Evaluation, but you feel a sense of ( I’m worried about my job here so got to put down what administrator is going to be happy with too). Then Admin brings another person from the district that Assist of the one and never even get find out what his opinion was.

  3. Yea
    Paul I would love to hear your response to my comments. To go one step farther I was told I didn’t know how to teach. I have been teaching for ten years and I don’t have a job. These are things I experience in the largest school district in San Antonio, TX.
    Thank You
    Alan K. Sones, Sr.

  4. Murphy,
    To this day I haven’t gone back to teaching. I feel like my confidence as a teacher was sucked out of me so bad by the principal. That I don’t even have desire, confidence, or the want to attitude to teach. Because the system in place didn’t do their job. Plus, here in the state of Texas, the government just doesn’t seem to care. They more with the student than they about the teacher. As a teacher in Texas you can’t even draw unemployment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *