Doing Teacher Evaluation Right

By Jim Hull

School districts are feeling pressured to put into place new teacher evaluation systems as soon as possible. Some districts are being pressured by the requirements of their state’s Race to the Top grant or No Child Left Behind waiver, while other districts may be in a rush simply due to political issues.

Either way, rushing to create a new teacher evaluation system won’t do anyone any good, especially students. Yes, it is true that most existing teacher evaluation systems do a disservice to all involved. When 99 percent of teachers are rated simply as satisfactory, it doesn’t even pass the sniff test. This doesn’t mean that a huge number of ineffective teachers should be removed from the classroom. What it does show is that most current evaluation systems fail to distinguish between excellent teachers whose practices should be replicated and struggling teachers who require extra help to succeed.

Teaching is incredibly difficult. Many, if not most, teachers need support and guidance to get the most out of their students year after year. However, just as with any other profession, some people are not cut out to be teachers no matter how hard they work or how much support they receive. That’s why it’s so important to create a teacher evaluation system that accurately identifies those teachers in need of improvement, and provides feedback to all teachers to help them improve.

Creating such an evaluation system takes time. Every district has unique needs, and evaluation systems should be designed specifically to meet those needs. States should play an important role in providing a state-wide framework of teacher evaluation. However, districts need the flexibility to customize their evaluation systems to meet the needs of their students.

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