Why You Shouldn’t Care About Your Teacher Evaluation

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Evaluations are in. All of your good intentions, hard work, and personal sacrifice have been boiled down to a number and a label. Are you “highly effective” or “innovating,” or merely “developing,” like you’re an insect in its larval stage instead of a professional educator?

Whatever your label or your number, you shouldn’t take too much pride or allow yourself to feel any disappointment or shame over it. Your evaluation is meaningless.

My district uses Marzano and everything is entered into iObservation. The last step in the evaluation process is for me, the teacher, to go in and “acknowledge” my scores. Why this is necessary is a bit of a mystery, since I am in no way allowed to question or challenge my final score. The state of Michigan gives districts total power when it comes to teacher evaluations. No due process. No appeals. No presumption of effectiveness. It’s all very democratic, and obviously designed to help teachers get better (he said sarcastically).

Once I acknowledged my rating, I was then provided the opportunity to leave a comment. I guess this is iObservation’s way of throwing teachers a bone. We may not be allowed to tell our principal, “Actually, the stupid learning goal was on the board. You just didn’t see it,” but we can sound off in the comments section. As a reminder, that’s the section nobody reads.

Nevertheless, it was my only chance to offer any thoughts, so here’s what I wrote:

I continue to find the evaluations arbitrary, based on questionable data, and demoralizing to the profession. That 75% of any teacher’s evaluation is in the hands of a single individual should be cause for concern. That that individual, however well-meaning and effective he or she might be, bases most of his or her evaluation on a small sample size of a teacher’s instruction is also concerning. It’s a flawed model, operating inside of a flawed system, foisted upon professional educators who were given little opportunity to provide input to the flawed legislators who pushed for more accountability based on the flawed belief that American schools, and therefore the people who work inside of them, are failing. The whole thing is nonsense, and I therefore put no stock in the above numbers, whether they be high, low, or somewhere in between. It’s a shame that principals have to waste so much time on it.

To add to the above and to put everything in list form, here is why your evaluation is meaningless and therefore not worth hanging your head or puffing your chest over.

Your evaluation is likely composed of two parts: administrator observations and student growth data. Both have major problems.

Student Growth

  • The student growth portion of your evaluation is likely based on cruddy assessments. Mine was based on screeners, which were never intended for teacher evaluations.
  • Students are not held accountable for their performance on the cruddy assessments, which makes you wonder how much they really care about them, which makes you wonder how hard they try on them. (I’ll give you a hint: two of my students were done with the 30-question reading test in 10 minutes.)
  • In my district,  growth scores are harmed by students who start the year with already high numbers. They have the least room for improvement, and that lack of growth lowers teachers’ ratings.
  • The whole thing sets up terrible incentives, which I try my best to ignore. Teachers in my district joke about getting students to bomb the fall screener to show more growth. You could actively lobby for the lowest students to be on your class roster to have a better chance of showing growth. There’s no doubt that some teach to the screeners, so kids get the idea that reading is really about saying words super fast. The list goes on.
  • Those students who missed more than 20 days of school? Doesn’t matter. It’s somehow your fault they didn’t learn as much as they should have.

Observations

  • Most of the evaluation is based on principal observations. I had two.  If we only needed two songs to evaluate a band, Tesla would be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  • Observations are only as good as the people making them.  They’re meaningless if principals across buildings and districts evaluate their teachers in different ways, which they do.
  • Observations are only reliable if we assume that principals can shelve their personal biases when observing a teacher and rely only on their training (assuming they received any).
  • Evaluations lose their meaning when those being evaluated are judged against different criteria. The current system assumes districts have at least a somewhat similar approach to evaluating teachers. They don’t.  My wife’s district handles the whole thing differently than my district. An “effective” teacher in one district won’t necessarily be effective in a neighboring district. Some districts make it nearly impossible to be “innovating,” while other districts start teachers out there and only lower them for cause. That makes the system junk.
  • Basing a significant part of a teacher’s evaluation on an administrator’s observations makes the system ripe for abuse. Observations might be an honest appraisal of your skills or they could be the result of office politics or personal grudges. If it’s the latter? Well, there’s always the comments section.

And why only observations and student growth, anyway? I’m a teacher, a service professional. Why don’t parents get a say in this? Why don’t the students?

I don’t mind being evaluated. I just wish my evaluation actually told me something, anything, about how well or poorly I do my job. Until it does, I find it hard to care. You should, too.

5 Replies to “Why You Shouldn’t Care About Your Teacher Evaluation”

  1. I so agree with you, especially with the point about being wary of basing a significant part of the evaluation on an administrator’s observation. Being an anthropologist as well as an educational consultant, I have seen a lot of unconscious biases come creeping into observations and evaluations. Also, the need for multiple observations to get a true gauge of a teacher’s teaching. I always try to do a range of observations, on different days, and at different times of a work day. A morning class may not be the same as a class just after lunch, or after a football session.

  2. While my administrators try to be fair, they can’t. They can only write what they see. If you teach Special Education, you will not get the exceeds simply because the evaluator does not see higher order questions and answers. I have students who are nonverbal, how are they supposed to answer the question in the way the evaluator are looking for? I don’t take it seriously except we have to get a certain score so we don’t have to write a plan of action or possibly lose our job. Complete waste of everyone’s time!

  3. Very well written.

    Being in education for 38 years I had many evaluations, most good and some not so good. One of my last ones was done the day before Thanksgiving break by someone who had at least 15 years of experience less than me, and no instruction in my subject area ever. It was fun to read and talk about that one. This system of evaluation is very flawed, but it too shall pass into something different, just wait it out.

    As a former parent of one of your students I want to tell you that you would have received very high marks from both my daughter and myself. Years later she still regards you as one of the best.

  4. Thanks, LuAnn! Good to hear from you. I saw Alexis the other day on our visit to the CUE. She looks like she’s going well. All smiles, that one. And you’re right. It’ll pass. In the meantime, the best thing to do is what you did: not take it seriously.

  5. I told my principal two years ago that the only way I would be able to rate my SLO as “Distinguished” would be to inflate my student’s essay scores (which was fully within my control — I could have done this), but that I was not going to do that, so I asked him to just give me a “Proficient” rating and be done with it. Total waste of time.

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