Teacher Evaluations – and what you can do for teachers you care about

A brief story about teacher evaluations

I am in the state of Ohio, so some of this is about to be a little Ohio-centric, because its what I know. The purpose of evaluations of teachers in the state of Ohio is:

  • To improve instruction by facilitating professional growth and development
  • To identify needs for staff development activities
  • To ensure teaching quality by bringing assistance to marginal teachers
  • To inform personnel decisions (retention, transfer, tenure, promotion, dismissal)

Evaluations are currently composed of two parts, each with equal weight: observations of teachers in class by a trained observer.  For me its my principal, and for me and my professional growth, she’s great for mine because she was a science teacher herself and can offer constructive feedback on how to make my class flow better.  I actually enjoy and look forward to those parts of my evaluation because it will make me a better teacher and therefore, will benefit my students both now and in the future.

The other part is “Student Growth” – and that’s the part for me that doesn’t really make sense or help inspire me to be a better teacher, because there are many things shown to be a bigger factor in student growth than the skill of their teacher.  Ideally, you can test each student at the beginning and end of the year, see how much they learned, and use that to measure a teachers effectiveness.  Right? What happened this year, is that my district told me they would provide that important pre-test… but didn’t.  However, there’s a legal backup if that data is missing.  I (along with many of my peers) was assigned the district average score for “Value Added Growth” from the previous year. My district has 30+ buildings.  From k-12.  My building usually scores the “best” in the district (but no, the board didn’t choose to use building scores.) So, half my evaluation comes from the standardized test results from students I’ve never met in buildings I’ve never set foot in before I was even employed as a teacher in my district.  And it really hurt MY ratings, because that score was an “F”.  (We got this news the Friday before Teacher Appreciation Week, too.) I feel like this will impact who my school will be able to hire in the future.  Why risk working in a district where students are struggling so much, if its going to bite you in the butt by giving you a poor evaluation?

So what?

The part of teacher evaluations that the public sees either comes in two flavors:

A.  The general public who feels that teachers should suck it up and submit to the evaluation, and

B.  Parents of kids who are being standardized-tested until their hair falls out (not kidding).

So, if you find yourself shaking your head at how terrible teacher evaluation is, you can do a couple things.  Here are my suggestions, particularly if you are a parent of a child in school now.

  1. Write to the school board.  They are elected, and they are close to the local situation.  Its good for them to know how you feel.
  2. Write to state legislatures.  They make the rules we are playing by.  The evaluation system is part of the Ohio Revised Code.
  3. Write a letter to your kid’s teacher if they were positive.  This is gold.
  4. Then change the information so the letter is to the principal of your school, and tell the principal how that teacher helped your child learn.

Every bit of the first half of the evaluation is based on things with evidence: either direct observation or something documented.  (The second half is standardized tests.  Feel free to write about those too, if you’re so inclined.)  Letters from families on behalf of a teacher count as evidence, and electronic copies can even be directly loaded into our state database of information.

What can a parent say that will matter?

Part of the evaluation specifically mentions how a teacher interacts with parents.  Keep in mind that when most principals hear about a teacher’s relationship with a parent, its because a parent is complaining about a perceived slight their child is getting at that teacher’s hand.  Its only rarely good things.  I suspect when I offered an after school field trip not one parent contacted my principal either with stories about how much their student enjoyed the trip (even though I was told that personally over the phone by several), or thanking her for supporting the field trip (which she did with phone calls for special approvals and $$$ for a bus.) So what are the things a teacher would really like to hear they have done well for your child?  Here are some excerpts of standards from our evaluation rubric (these are for the highest possible ranking in their category) which are not only things a teacher is grateful to hear they get right every once in awhile, but also is something they can use as evidence of meeting professional standards and goals:

In “Instructional Planning”

“The teacher uses the input and contributions of families, colleagues, and other professionals in understanding each learner’s prior knowledge and supporting their development.”

Did your child’s teacher use your input in teaching your child?

In “Instruction and Assessment” under “Classroom Environment”

“The teacher engages in two-way, ongoing communication with families that results in active volunteer, community, and family partnerships with contribute to student learning and development.”

Do you feel like you were a partner in your child’s learning with the teacher?

In “Instruction and Assessment” under “Assessment of Student Learning”

“The teacher uses assessment data to identify students’ strengths and needs, and modifies and differentiates instruction accordingly, as well as examines classroom assessment results to reveal trends and patterns in individual and group progress and to anticipate learning obstacles.”

Did the teacher make an effort to not only get to know your child, but understand their history and do things that your child would enjoy in order for your child to learn better?  Its easy for a teacher to be inflexible about assignments and due dates – did your child’s teacher make learning personal for your child?

“The teacher continually checks for understanding and makes adjustments accordingly (whole-class or individual students).  When an explanation is not effectively leading students to understand the content, the teacher adjusts quickly and seamlessly within the lesson and uses an alternate way to explain the concept.”

Did your child’s teacher help him/her understand a concept by allowing them to retry at the information?

The teacher provides substantive, specific, and timely feedback to students, families, and other school personnel while maintaining confidentiality.  The teacher provides the opportunity for students to engage in self-assessment and show awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses.”

Did your child learn new ways to monitor their own understanding in a teacher’s class?  Was the teacher in contact with you about their progress?

In “Professionalism” under “Professional Responsibilities”

“The teacher communicates effectively with students, families, and colleagues.”

Do you hear from your child’s teacher?  Is that helpful to you in some way?  Do they do something special for parents like a weekly letter or blog?

In summary, let the teacher and the principal know how the teacher effectively communicates with you and give specific examples of how the teacher helped YOUR child learn.

 If you’ll excuse me, I have some letters to write for my kid’s teachers.  Have a great weekend, everyone!

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