A Glimpse into High-Quality Evaluation

 Louisa, a fourth-year science teacher, sits down to discuss her teacher development portfolio with her evaluator. Her portfolio by now contains documentation and analysis of her work from the end of her preservice program through her first three years in the classroom. It also contains records and assessments of professional development projects she has done over the last three years. Louisa and her evaluators had selected these projects at different times in her first years of teaching to help her attend to the needs they identified together.

Susannah, who is Louisa's current evaluator, is a 15-year veteran science teacher at the same school. She is released from her classroom duties for three periods each day to work as a member of the district evaluation team. In that role, Susannah observes her colleagues, prepares written evaluations, meets with teachers to discuss or plan observations, and attends meetings where the district team reviews evaluations and individual professional development plans. The district evaluation team is composed of accomplished classroom teachers, administrators from each school site, and the district Peer Assistance and Review coordinator. The team's job is to review the evaluations of teachers to ensure that each of them is meeting performance expectations, progressing along the teacher development continuum, and receiving good counsel about ways to improve. When there are serious concerns about a teacher's performance, the team sends in another evaluator to validate the concern and help the team recommend a course of action that may range from targeted coaching to dismissal.

Louisa opens her observation notebook to the page that contains notes about the lesson that Susannah observed the previous day. Susannah has already given Louisa a copy of the observation notes she made and questions for Louisa to think about before they meet. Louisa has added some reflections about the lesson and questions she wants to explore with Susannah. Louisa has brought some writing her students did that morning in response to a question she posed when they came into class. Susannah asks Louisa for her own assessment of the lesson and, in particular, how she thinks the discussion went. Louisa is very proud that during the discussion, she had to interject to clarify questions only three times. She points to evidence in the discussion of the content mastery students showed. However, there is a discrepancy between what occurred during the discussion and evidence of content mastery in the students' writing that Louisa has brought along.

In her observation notes, Susannah cites many of the same kinds of evidence that Louisa has discussed. She points out that the students still struggle to explain their thinking clearly. She directs Louisa's attention to the students' use of questions to one another and their limited reference to the informational texts they had read. This is an "aha moment" for Louisa.

"Oh," she says, "this is what we've talked about when we have been trying to figure out why the kids do poorly on comprehension questions on informational texts!" She is referring to the meeting they had after they had looked at some of the school's standardized test data alongside other assessments. Louisa had complained several times about how few questions her students asked about their reading and how literal their conversations about their reading often were. She suggested that students' lack of questions might well be related to their ability to pose questions about the text as they read.

Susannah reminds Louisa that inquiry in science means being able to ask "why?" at the appropriate times. Louisa knows this and recognizes that posing questions while reading is a way readers probe their own understanding. If students were not doing that during reading, then very likely they would not notice that their own written or verbal explanations did not offer the receiver opportunities for clear understanding.

"What should I do about this?" Louisa asks.  Susannah suggests that Louisa and her colleagues, who have been doing some research on students' reading in science, invite one of the English teachers, who has taught reading to English language learners for several years, to come to their next research meeting to help them explore strategies to try with their own students.

Susannah's role will be to focus her observations on helping Louisa reflect on the success of the strategies she uses. As Susannah looks for evidence of teaching standards in Louisa's work this year, they agree that Louisa should focus on the effective teaching skills that she brings to solving this problem. They conclude by filing the observations, the records of their conversations, and agreements in the year 4 section of Louisa's portfolio. Thus begins a new chapter in Louisa's documentation of her professional journey.

*  *  *

Louisa's case illustrates the learning that a coordinated evaluation and support system could produce. As a fourth-year teacher, Louisa has been developing her skills and documenting her practice around the same teaching standards from her preservice program throughout her first three years in the classroom. The portfolio she has maintained began with the performance assessment she completed at the end of preservice preparation to illustrate her ability to plan, teach, and assess students around the state student learning standards—and to reflect on her practice and outcomes in light of the state's standards for teaching.

This seamless experience was facilitated by an overhaul of the state system to require a teacher performance assessment for licensing, raising the bar for entry with a valid and authentic measure of whether new entrants can practice responsibly. The assessment (in this case, the Performance Assessment for California Teachers) is based on the same teaching standards that are used to accredit Louisa's preparation program, so her training was organized to ensure that she would master the tested knowledge and skills. The assessment helped strengthen her preparation and her readiness to teach. The coherence of her experience was further enabled by the extension of these standards into her induction program and later on-the-job evaluation.

Creating coherence from preparation to practice will greatly improve the capacity of the teaching force. States such as Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, and Washington are among those that have taken steps forward to create such coherence, by adopting performance assessments for licensing beginning teachers that are linked to standards for initial induction and ongoing evaluation. The role of the state—to establish professional standards and ensure, through profession-wide assessments for licensing, that all new entrants meet them—should complement the role of local districts, making it more possible for them to support the ongoing development of teachers who have met that initial bar.

Louisa's case also illustrates how the evaluation process can connect evidence of practice to evidence of student learning in ways that move teaching forward. By looking at standardized test data, Louisa's department highlighted some areas for further exploration that might better support achievement. By looking, then, at authentic student work in the context of her current teaching, Louisa was able, with help from her evaluator, to see more clearly how her students were thinking and understanding, and to fine-tune her plans to strengthen their learning.

Source: Accomplished California Teachers, A Quality Teacher in Every Classroom: Creating a Teacher Evaluation System That Works for California (Stanford, CA: National Board Resource Center, Stanford University, 2010). As featured in Linda Darling-Hammond, Getting Teacher Evaluation Right (2013).

Reprinted from American Educator, Spring 2014

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American Educator, Spring 2014