Assessing Teachers’ Performance

Here’s a fascinating insight in to how Bill and Melinda Gates believe the profession of teaching should be ‘professionalised’ in America. Whilst there are inevitably differences between countries there are also many comparisons that we can draw between their views and the current Indian scenario (at least in the ‘top end’ private schools).

Wall Street Journal Article

As I’ve previously reported here on the blog, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have been pumping millions of dollars in to research looking at methods by which teachers’ professional performance can be assessed and judged. Now, most American states have performance management/ measurement systems that link remuneration and even job security to performance. The debate has not just been about whether this is appropriate, but even assuming it makes sense then what aspects of performance should be assessed, and how? Understandably there are many doubts raised about systems that are wholly or even partially reliant upon student performance in competitive examinations (even when assessed on a ‘value-added’ basis). Firstly, there are some subjects taught in school that can’t be assessed and then there are all the issues of encouraging teachers to just teach to the tests (or even in some much publicized cases inciting them to cheat!).

One of my first thoughts reading the piece was to question whether there really has to be an ‘automated’ performance appraisal process for employees in any kind of organization to feel they are in a ‘high support/ high expectation environment? Also, does it have to be attached to money? To me, this might be raising serious issues about the quality of leadership in schools – hinted at also in the phrase “….more involvement from parents, more engagement from school leaders and higher quality materials to use in the classroom.”

I have mentioned the MET project before; teachers’ lessons are video recorded and then analyzed. Incidentally, if it’s not already in the pipeline, within a year or so I could envisage these videos being sent to India for their analysis as a form of knowledge outsourcing! My question to teachers is to wonder how Indian teachers would feel about having videos of their lessons analyzed in this way?

There actually seem, to me, to be two potentially conflicting goals here. On the one hand the WSJ article indicates that they want to use the video evidence to build a greater understanding of ‘what works’, what teacher practices lead to or can be considered as predictors for student success. However, at the same time, even before they have the first objective achieved they want to use the videos for assessment of individual teachers.

I do agree with the Gateses that paying more to teachers on the basis of length of service and qualifications doesn’t make a lot of sense and has a poor correlation with performance. I can also completely understand their positive feelings about the interaction with the teacher who was keen to study the videos of her own lessons for what she could learn from them. However, that kind of opportunity can be just as effective and just as motivating if a teacher has her lessons observed by a peer who shares feedback afterwards (perhaps even on pre-agreed specific aspects of her teaching practice on which she’s chosen to focus). If it is linked to money and/ or performance assessment, in my experience that changes the paradigm significantly regarding openness to feedback and improvement inputs.

The objectives seem confused – assess where teachers are, as a snapshot in time in order to determine remuneration etc. or a skills enhancement initiative which is ongoing and non-threatening? Are both objectives compatible within the same exercise?

The following article prepared by academics from a number of the US top universities gives quite detailed insights in to an existing evaluation system – that used in Cincinnati that relies heavily on the more traditional physical classroom observation;

Education Next Article on Evaluating Teachers’ Effectiveness

Incidentally, the Widget Effect report referred to in the first paragraph of the article is well worth tracking down online and downloading.


One Response

  1. Would buy your point here.

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