Evaluations Aim to Build Great Teachers – and Delaware is a National Leader

November 1st, 2011

Category: Policy and Practice

Throughout my first year of teaching, I can unequivocally state that I floundered more than I flourished.  However, with strong coaching and support, I was able to reflect on my classroom practice, identify areas of improvement, and, ultimately, improve my instruction for the benefit of my students.  This idea – that great teachers aren’t just born but can be made – is at the heart of Delaware’s charge to implement teacher evaluation systems, which is highlighted in the National Council on Teacher Quality’s report “State of the States: Trends and Early Lessons on Teacher Evaluation and Effective Policies.”

The report highlights that a few states from across the country are, in varying forms, moving aggressively forward with the development and implementation of teacher evaluation policies and practices.  Delaware receives significant praise in a few areas, such as:

  • requiring evidence of student learning as a preponderant criterion for the summative rating;
  • linking professional development activities to evaluation results; and
  • utilizing evaluation results to differentiate the timing and frequency for conducting evaluations.

However, Delaware is trailing other leading states in our use of evaluation results to inform other critical decisions, such as:

  • linking certification to continued demonstration of classroom effectiveness;
  • tying evaluation to increases in compensation; and
  • requiring states use evaluation results in the unfortunate circumstance of layoffs (i.e. requiring “ineffective” teachers be laid off before “highly-effective”) .

The report lays out some early lessons that we should all acknowledge as we continue this work.  First, teacher evaluations aren’t a silver bullet, but they are an extremely useful tool in shedding light on effective practice and improving teaching and learning.  Second, insisting that we maintain our lockstep mentality around comparability of student learning measures for all teachers (even though success in first grade looks vastly different than success in an AP history class) will hamper our efforts when we must focus on fair, rigorous, and appropriate measures that reflect teacher performance.  And third, continually soliciting input and maintaining direct and frequent communication about the process will alleviate concerns and garner buy-in from a broad range of stakeholders – which is necessary to maintain the momentum behind this work.

The real potential behind teacher evaluation lies in utilizing it as a framework to make teachers better through clear, targeted, and individualized feedback – which I was fortunate to receive during my time in the classroom.  And while we could certainly do a better job of limiting access to the teaching profession to our best and brightest, we must continue pushing forward this year with this work so that all educators are given the opportunity to reflect upon and improve their practice, which will pay dividends for our kids well into the future.

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Brett Turner




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