Assessing Teacher Performance – A Hornets’ Nest

The issue of assessing teachers’ performance is controversial enough. However, when you then take the leap on from that and use those assessments to determine bonuses and extra payments for some (and showing the door to others), then you really get in to one of the most disputed and controversial areas in education.

Of course, there are those in many other professional fields who would suggest that there is no logical reason why such methods, prevalent elsewhere for determining accountability and reward, shouldn’t also apply to teachers. However, there are no shortage of teachers who will tell you that the nature of their profession makes it impossible to reduce it down to so many measurable metrics in this way.

Here’s an interesting article from Texas, America that shows the current state of this debate in the US. Panicked about an education system that seems to be failing to maintain the country’s competitiveness in the world, Americans are clearly thrashing around for answers. So, in some places teachers are being assessed on actual performance of the children in their classes, in some places on the basis of ‘value-added’ data measurements (taking in to account starting and ‘finishing’ points), whilst some are advocating for the more subjective analysis through classroom observations.

Dallas News Article

Whilst I’ve got my own thoughts on these different approaches and on the overall issue, I am really very interested to gain a sense of other people’s feelings, especially on the potential applicability of any of these methods in India. It even brings up the question of the extent to which the school or the education system is responsible for the quality of a teacher’s work, balanced against their own individual accountability.

Are there lessons that we can learn from the American debate, that could ultimately enable us to produce a better quality education system that delivers high standards consistently?


6 Responses

  1. A very pertinent issue and sensitive one too.

    You can not motivate a teacher to be a responsible teacher just by providing good remuneration. Job is job after all. They would slack moment opportunity arises. This happens in corporate world too. you would see that 80% of the employee are hardly serious about being true to their work. For them, its regular paycheck which matters and not the effects of their work on organization. You have to put checks and balances in the system so as to ensure proper deliverable from each one of employees. This atleast ensures that employees just cant be totally unconcerned about how they deliver assignments or work packets. Systems like 360 feedback and performance evaluation and cross checks ensure that there is some degree of ‘motivation’ to atleast put their best to the work in hand.

    What I see however, in NCR schools, is that, these checks and balances on teachers, so that they impart a reasonable level of education just by being part of the overall system, are implemented in relaxed manner.

    Few suggestions here.

    1. Hardly any school seems to take any feedback from Parents (what they do in PTM is to ask parent to give feedback in writing in front of the teacher itself – would you ever write negative words about a person in front of the person itself?)

    2. Hardly any school has ever thought why they cant take feedback from kids themselves? This even makes sense for kids of primary classes (say class I onwards). E.g. In a class of 35 kids of class I, what if you ask them independently what and why they like something about each subject teacher? Agree, that you just cant trust the verdict of these kids and pass on opinion about a teacher. However, what you definitely get out of these conversations is a sense ‘good’ or ‘ok’ or ‘bad’ feeling. If you see that out of 35 kids, 30 kid reported negative about a teacher, isnt that signals something? And I am not saying that make a final conclusion just on these grounds only. No, never. All you have to do is to catch the ‘signal’ and later establish proper and provable check around the teacher in question to conclusively ascertain the facts.

    3. I see very few schools using technology to enable checks on teachers. Imagine equipping each classroom with CCTV and control of all CCTV streams from all classrooms available at the touch of button on principal’s computer screen. If I am a principal, I would switch to any stream at any point during the schools hours and decide to observe that class to understand how teacher of that class conducting his/her class? Imagine what happens if all teachers know that they can be monitored at any time?

    Either the teachers are really good or system ensures that they become good, the end result is reasonable levels of quality of education imparted to students.

    How a system can ensure that everybody works or delivers as per rule, irrespective of intention (at times, capabilities) of the participant, can be well understood if you see how a state level engineering college functions and how IITs/IIMs function. However, that is beyond the scope of this comment 🙂


    • Dear Ashish,

      You’ve expressed some interesting ideas that i thought by now might have elicited some response from some teachers.

      I’ve been away overseas on some work for the school – only back late last night, though not well as running fever and low BP. Doctor has hopefully put me on the right path.

      On your first point – teachers (or any other professionals) not getting motivated by money alone, I couldn’t agree with you more. Sadly, it’s a mistake we see repeatedly from new schools who lure good teachers for high salaries so that they can convince people in the local community to take admission quickly.

      Sadly, what such people fail to realise is that a school is an institute and those who lead it have a duty to the very long term. I studied in a school with over 400 years of history – that’s institution building!! Every teacher in that school knows they make or damage that historical legacy.

      I’m not sure I can along with all your arguments about what really is needed to lead and motivate teachers. In many ways our differing opinions can be traced back to the famous McGregor’s X man and Y man from the 1960’s: Theory X and Theory Y

      I personally believe through enough years in management and leadership that I’m far more comfortable buying in to Theory Y beliefs about what motivates people. Where i think Indian organisations (and this goes especially for schools) is too great a willingness to carry passengers, to carry people who could find their motivation elsewhere, but find life easier to stay around even though they are demotivated. Such people for whom words like ‘accountability’ send them running for excuses, blame and their ‘right’ to keep their job at a higher salary next year for basically the same or less work as last year.

      Sadly, when we carry such passengers (a throwback to socialist era labour laws as well as reluctance to ‘say anything nasty!) they will see us as weak, take full advantage and tag on for the ride. In the meantime, your best people can become frustrated if they are having to pull too hard to deliver excellence whilst carrying such passengers.

      That requires ‘leadership’ and courage at the top, which i think we owe to our best people.

      Nearly finished reading a wonderful new book:

      What I need and want in our school is Linchpins, people ready, willing and generous enough to be remarkable, to stand out fearlessly from the crowd in the work they do (without automatically asking for ‘how much’).

      Of course, if you are sold on Theory X, only then do the video cameras for watching the teachers fit in – and we can agree to disagree.

  2. Any comment on the comment above, Mr. Parkinson?

    I hope, I was not too way off the mark here.

    As and when you get time to write, It would be interesting to know your own thoughts on this issue.


  3. Assessing Teacher Performance.

    I sincerely hope that I am not being naive in still believing that teaching is a noble profession.. and probably the only noble profession alive today. Atleast, this is what we believed when I was going through my years of education.

    Therefore, I feel that it would be inappropriate to assess teachers in a manner we would assess other professionals. The most unselfish human being, in my humble opinion, is an individual who is willing to share or pass on knowledge. How can we even begin to assess such a person ???

    Having said that, I also understand that teachers should probably be held far more accountable than others, considering they are given the huge responsibility of nurturing the future minds of a country. But, in todays competitive days, when a “good student” is not just someone who gets good grades, but is also good at extra curricular actitvies, how are we to judge which teacher has had the strongest influence on this student ??

    I guess the easiest barometer to assess a teachers performance would be to assess the results of a particular school. I am of the belief that a teacher would mould him or herself to the ethos of the school they teach in. So, I feel assessment of schools is a far greater need of the hour, than assessment of teachers.

    Best Regards

  4. Waiting for Superman, the documentary about how the U.S. public education system is failing most socio-economically disadvantaged children, points unambiguously to the transformative role of good teachers in a child’s life. As the Dallas News article says, U.S. attention is now focused on assessing teachers to identify and reward those who are effective. The article discusses alternative ways of achieving this. It seems to me that all of them are valid, but must be used in concert. Thus, we must be able to assess objectively whether the material taught was mastered and/or the skill developed (criterion-referenced assessment), how much progress was made from the student’s own starting point (self-referenced), what the class average learning is and how much each student learnt relative to others (norm-referenced). It is also true that one “feels” the effectiveness of a teacher simply by walking into his/her classroom: a classroom of alert and engaged students signals the presence of an effective teacher, and what students and colleagues say about a teacher provides additional data. A fair teacher assessment system would perhaps need to include all of these methods of assessment. The North Dallas system referred to in the article seems to me to make eminent sense: it assesses a teacher’s “ability to engage and empower students, keep tabs on individual progress, manage the classroom and act professionally”. It should not be terribly hard to get a group of educators, including teachers, to agree on a set of parameters that constitute “professional” behaviour. After all, most modern HR systems incorporate both quantitative data (here student scores, the teacher’s knowledge of the discipline and its pedagogy etc) and qualitative data (here student engagement and empowerment, teacher’s collaborative behavior with peers, etc). Schools can and must create effective teacher assessment systems, but I think it essential first to ensure (i) that, as with students, what is assessed can reasonably be assumed to have been learnt, and (ii) that the environment enables rather than disables teachers.

    In India, our teachers generally come to the profession highly motivated but ill-equipped to teach 21st Century (empowered) youngsters what are now termed 21st Century skills (which they themselves lack), through a disjointed and unwieldy syllabus. In-service training is itself generic and disjointed and generally leads to little learning. There is virtually no support for implementation of new learning and no professional network for lateral learning and shared problem-solving and for exposure to current research and professional development resources, for collaborative research etc. Small wonder then that they lose motivation to teach and fritter away valuable energy in small-time politics or plug away in unimaginative classrooms, dooming this generation of students to mediocrity.

    Let us first create the enabling environment, give teachers access to effective teaching practices and materials from around India and the world, network teachers so that they understand the value of collaborative learning, help them acquire the skills they must build, help them understand and create coherence in the syllabus they must transact, and so empower them to do their job. And when we then design the assessment system, let us do it with them, to track the knowledge, skills and attitudes whose relevance they have come to understand, to help them identify areas for further growth and so take charge of their ongoing development. Then we can demand accountability. But ask any good teacher: self-driven learners do not need to be held accountable, they already are.

    • Hi Sveta, wonderful to hear from you after such a long time – and thank you so much for these thoughtful contributions to this debate. I’ve only seen clips of ‘Waiting for Superman’, but see lots of similarities with the David Puttnam film in UK – ‘We are the ones we’ve been waiting for’. The reality – a lot of people are frustrated with the slowness of education systems throughout the world to change their ways, to acknowledge that the world is changed and there’s not much to be gained from educating for yesterday.

      The whole set of issues around how we prepare teachers to teach here in India, how we aid and assist their development throughout their careers, how we lead them, motivate them etc. are really coming to front and centre in my mind as you’ll probably notice if you see many of the articles on this blog.

      Even allowing for whatever ‘pain’ it might entail along the way I believe it’s time to ‘professionalize’ the profession. No longer can we get away with populating the profession with people who teach because they “didn’t want a real job” (admitted to me a couple of years ago by a prospective teacher in an interview!!). To me, that includes selectively learning from what’s happening throughout the world – no need for us to reinvent the wheel or to live through all the same mistakes others have made.

      I think it’s potentially a really exciting journey ahead. When are you likely to be back in India?

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