The Accomplished Teacher SmartBrief e-mail I get once a day, and rarely take the time to read all the way through, pointed me to two excellent resources about teacher evaluations.
The Christian Science Monitor does a good job of running down the value and issues of teacher evaluations in today's online issue. Among the highlight quotes include Stanford's Linda Darling-Hammond: "I went from being very enthusiastic about [value-added test scores] to extremely worried," and the counter from Dan Weisberg of the New Teacher Project: "How long do you want to wait until we have a system that satisfies all the concerns?" The article touches on the complexities of adding value to standardized test scores, the power of effective feedback to teachers and the impact that it can have on students, the importance of teacher involvement in designing effective evaluation systems (including incentives), and some of the horror stories of objectively excellent teachers getting terrible reviews through flawed systems. In all, a good introduction to the topic, I thought.
Aaccording to this article, the Achievement First academies of New York seem to have the balanced approach to teacher evaluation figured out. A variety of evaluation techniques--observations by trained observers (including other instructors trained to the task), value-added test scores, and student surveys --give teachers much more valuable feedback than what the article portrays as the "traditional" teaching method--a score determined by a laundry list of practices that the observer looked for in her biennial visit to the classroom.
Included in the same e-mail was a tip towards the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards's new resource for evaluators of teachers: the Video Observation Program. The idea is to provide observers with videos of what good teaching looks like across a variety of subjects. I'm reminded of my poor principals who come into my class and listen to me speak Spanish for 45 minutes--they have few resources to determine how well I'm doing my job. (If after 6 weeks my principal can't understand me and my 7th graders can, I think that's a growth measurement. But it's tough to fit that into a rubric: "How much more content do the students know than the principal?" Doesn't really work.) They can look for general best practices: Do the students know why they're doing what they're doing? How engaged are the students? How is the instructor assessing learning in an ongoing way? But in terms of content delivery, how is one principal supposed to know the differences between good teaching in ELA, math, science, social studies, X number of world languages, phys ed, and technology? NBPTS wants to provide principals, for a nominal fee, a library of videos. This is an excellent idea; I wish it were available for free, and not just targeted at principals (and other teacher leaders). I think it would be a valuable part of a teacher's self-improvement kit, too.