Six steps to effective teacher development and evaluation

1. Match high expectations with high levels of support.

Teacher evaluations should be based upon professional teaching standards that spell out what teachers should know and be able to do. Teachers should receive regular, timely feedback on their performance and support to get better. The responsibility for improving teaching shouldn’t rest with teachers alone. Measures of effective teaching enable school systems to better support teachers’ improvement needs and to determine if teachers have the tools and school environment conducive to good teaching. Sound measures help school systems know where to target professional development and whether those efforts work. The goal of the process should be to systematically improve teacher practice and increase student learning.

2. Include evidence of teaching and student learning from multiple sources.

Measures of student learning gains commonly based on end-of-year tests provide teachers with too little information, too late, and may not reflect the full breadth and depth of instruction. We know that a balanced approach works best (teacher observation, student work, and student assessments, for example), and both our organizations are conducting what could be called R&D in this area. The Gates Foundation’s MET project (much, but not all of which, the AFT agrees with) has found that combining a range of measures—not placing inordinate weight on standardized test scores—yields the greatest reliability and predictive power of a teacher’s gains with other students. And the AFT and its affiliates are exploring ways to accurately determine what measures best serve as a proxy for our work.

Education researcher Diane Ravitch responds to the Weingarten-Phillips article

In a March 26 blog post, education researcher Diane Ravitch raises the following objection to the article co-written by AFT President Randi Weingarten and the Gates Foundation’s Vicki Phillips:

“The fundamental problem with the Gates Foundation is that they have directed the entire national conversation to blaming teachers—instead of poverty and segregation—for low test scores. They have put hundreds of millions of dollars into evaluating teachers, finding good teachers (and rewarding them), finding ‘bad’ teachers (and firing them). …

“I think I understand what Randi is thinking. She thinks she got Vicki Phillips to agree that teacher evaluation is moving too fast. And Randi did not endorse … MET. She believes she won concessions from the nation’s most powerful foundation.

“But here is my view: The teaching profession across America is under attack. The Gates Foundation has helped to fuel that attack by its claim that teacher quality is our biggest problem. Teacher-bashing has become sport for talk shows and pundits. Legislatures are vying to see what they can do to demoralize teachers, what benefit they can strip away, what right they can negate.

“In the face of this onslaught, the issue of teacher evaluation is less important than the morale of teachers and the survival of the teaching profession. I have concluded that the effort to reduce teaching to a metric—the goal of the Gates Foundation—is failing and will continue to fail, because the flaws are too deep for it to ever work. Teachers should be evaluated by their peers and experienced administrators.”

3. Use information to provide constructive feedback to teachers, as befits a profession—not to shame them.

The aim of evaluation should be to improve teacher practice, not to sort or shame. Districts such as Los Angeles and New York City have publicly released teacher rankings. Both the AFT and the Gates Foundation have criticized this practice. As Bill Gates, the co-chair of the foundation, wrote in The New York Times, “Publicly ranking teachers by name will not help them get better at their jobs or improve student learning. On the contrary, it will make it a lot harder to implement teacher evaluation systems that work.”

A more productive approach is to hold principals and districts accountable for the continuous improvement of teachers, including giving teachers key supports and dismissing teachers who do not improve even after receiving help.

4. Create confidence in the quality of teacher development and evaluation systems and the schools’ ability to implement them reliably.

This means using a valid rubric for observing teacher practice; training and certifying raters to ensure they can observe classrooms fairly and consistently; and observing teachers multiple times, using multiple observers: administrators and peer or master teachers. It also means preparing principals and others to give skilled feedback that can support teachers’ growth.

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