Study: Once-a-year teacher evaluations not enough

The president of the teacher’s union in Hillsborough County Schools, which is using both teacher and principal evaluators, said teachers have embraced the new system.

“We’re new in this process, but already many teachers tell us they value the conversations they’re having with their peers,” said Jean Clements.

Both Hillsborough and Memphis are also experimenting with student surveys.

Those surveys, also being piloted by the foundation in school districts around the nation, are not popularity contests, Kane said. They focus on class experiences and ask students to talk about things like whether they are being challenged and engaged.

College professors have been evaluated by their students for years. Kane, who is also a Harvard professor, said he thinks school teachers could learn to appreciate that feedback as well.

“One thing I’ve learned is once you show people the questions, much of the hesitance fades away,” he said.

Kane emphasized that the main finding of this research is that the more information gathered about any one teacher, the better chance she or he will be given an accurate evaluation that helps improve teaching practice.

Districts that don’t have the money to completely change their evaluation systems can take some first steps that the foundation and the school districts thought would make a meaningful difference. Those ideas include:

— Better training and certification for observers, including videotaping lessons and having more than one person evaluate a teacher.

— Student surveys to supplement other methods of evaluation or as a way to help teachers and their mentors work together.

— Convene meetings between teachers and administrators to start collaborating on improving the evaluation system.

— Look at the foundation’s research results and start a conversation about which parts of a teacher’s practice are most closely linked to student success. Focus professional development on those areas.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federal of Teachers, expressed concern that too much emphasis is being placed on evaluating teachers and not on improving their performance.

“Until we make a commitment to develop evaluation systems that are first and foremost about continuous improvement and professional growth, we will continue to struggle in our efforts to provide every child with a high-quality education,” she said in a written statement.

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