Re-evaluating Teacher Evaluations

What prompted this post was my discovery that only 15 of the 714 Chinese drug factories get inspected every year. On average, foreign medical factories that bring products to the US are inspected once every 13 years. Our 300+ ports receive 18.2 million shipments of drugs, cosmetics, food and devices a year, and the Food and Drug Administration has only about 450 inspectors. Do the math!!

Teacher EvaluationThat got me thinking about teachers and how they are ‘inspected.’ For a few months now I have been corresponding with teachers I know. Here’s what they told me, with a few of my own thoughts stuck in here and there.

In the old days, teachers closed their doors and did their thing, for better or for worse. As long as things were quiet, administrators rather bothered to open the door to see what was going on, and teachers never watched each other at work. That’s changing, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. In some schools today, teachers are actually expected to watch their peers teach, after which they share their analysis. In other schools, however, principals armed with lists sit in the back of the class checking off ‘behaviors’ and later give the teacher a ‘scorecard’ with her ‘batting average.’

No Child Left Behind was supposed to close what is called ‘the achievement gap’ by forcing schools to pay attention to all children. Unfortunately, the gaps persist: Only 14% of Blacks and 17% of Latino 4th graders are proficient in reading, compared to their Asian American (45%) and White (42%) counterparts on the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress. NCLB’s critics claim that the law has narrowed the curriculum to a single-minded focus on reading and math, eliminated programs for the gifted, and turned schools into ‘drill and kill’ factories, and those claims are, in some places, supported by facts.

NCLB’s biggest change may be in teaching itself. For better and sometimes for worse, what teachers used to do behind closed doors is now scrutinized, often on a daily basis. That is, someone, often the principal, drops in regularly to watch the teacher at work. Whether these observations are diagnostic in nature and therefore designed to help teachers improve or a ‘gotcha’ game is the essential question. The answer seems to vary from school to school.

What were ‘the good old days’ like? Linda Darling Hammond, the Stanford professor who began as a high school teacher in 1974, was left completely alone. “I was never observed at all during my first year, not once,” she told me. My situation was similar. In my first year of as a high school English teacher in the mid 1960’s, I taught 900 classes–5 classes a day for 180 days–and remember being observed only three times.

Other veterans have similar memories. Nicki Smith began teaching second grade in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1962. “I don’t remember ever being observed by my principal,” she said. As a teaching intern in Newton the previous year, she recalls her Harvard supervisor dropping by “infrequently on Friday afternoons,” while the principal never showed up.

George Wood, now a principal in Ohio, started as an 8th grade teacher in Lake Orion, Michigan, in 1975. He remembers being observed just once his first year by the principal. “His only advice was to post my assignments on the chalkboard on a daily basis. No other teacher or administrator observed me,” Mr. Wood recalls.

Anthony Cody began his teaching career in 1987 in Oakland. Trained to teach science, Mr. Cody was assigned to teach Spanish, English and Earth Science. “I do not believe I was observed that first year at all,” he said, and he remembers that just one administrator came in to watch him during his second year, after which he was granted tenure.

Esther Wojcicki, a journalism teacher in Palo Alto, California, began teaching in Berkeley in 1963. “I was observed three times my first year usually by the department chair. The observations were not helpful, just stressful,” she recalls.

David Cohen also teaches in Palo Alto:

In my first California public school job, over in Fremont, I was observed once or twice a year by principals with science backgrounds (I’m an English teacher). They praised my lesson plans and materials, though sometimes without fully recognizing or appreciating what I had in mind; they saw that I controlled the classroom, but did little to engage me in questions/reflections about my instructional choices or goals for improvement.

Curtis Johnson, one of the co-authors of Disrupting Class, began teaching in 1965 in San Marcos, Texas. He remembers that President Lyndon Johnson, himself a former teacher in Texas, visited the school to sign the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), but, he adds, “No administrators ever visited my classroom. They assumed that if we weren’t doing what we should, they would hear about it. And I think they would.”

That’s how the system worked: you closed your door and ran things your way. As long as the noise didn’t disrupt anyone else, you were assumed to be doing your job.

As for me, I remember being observed a few times by my high school principal in Port Washington, New York. After sitting in on a lively class discussion of Macbeth, he suggested that, if I used the bathroom before class, I wouldn’t have to move around so much!

What about today? Observations are still mandatory in most districts, with the number and procedures often spelled out in union contracts. These rules may be honored in the breach, of course, as in the past. What matters most is whether observations are useful. Teacher Evaluation quoteMy non-scientific sample suggests that the observation process is changing for the better in some places, but that, unfortunately, it’s still mostly useless.

Eric Scroggins began teaching in a middle school in the Bronx in 2001. “I taught five classes of science to 35-38 eighth graders,” he told me. “Other teachers, primarily other Teach For America corps members, observed me with some frequency (and I them), but I remember being observed formally only once by my assistant principal, although my principal peeked in every so often in the beginning.” Mr. Scroggins now works for Teach for America in San Francisco.

Colleston Morgan, who just finished a 2-year stint with TFA in New Orleans, remembers several ‘drive by, drop-in’ observations during his first year. “My assistant principal may have formally observed me once, as part of the retention process for first-year teachers, though that had more of the feel of a formality than anything else,” he recalls.

Chris Krook-Magnuson began teaching math at Coolidge High School in Washington, DC in 2005. “I was observed two times by an administrator my first year and did not receive useful feedback, just a checklist of what I was supposed to have posted in the room and on the board. I was supposed to be observed by my American University Mentor (as part of my M.A.T.), but I never saw her that entire year.”

Kenneth Bernstein is a veteran in Maryland who changed careers to become a teacher. He wrote, in part:

I have found most of the formal observations about my teaching of little value to me. One year an assistant principal (who did NOT last beyond that one year in our school) insisted that my lesson be a formal Directed Teaching Activity, a la Madeline Hunter. The day before I was to be observed, I told my class that I was going to teach in a different way, just so they wouldn’t be surprised. At the end of that prep day, my students asked why a lesson had to be that boring!  I am suspicious of anything that attempts to force conformity too strictly upon either teachers or students.

I have served as a department chair and observed other teachers. I have as a peer observed fellows and served as a coach. I am on my fourth student teacher, which means I do observations. If the purpose of the observation is merely to fulfill a legal requirement, it is a waste of time. If the purpose is to provide some feedback to the teacher, and thus help improve instruction, it is often best done by those with no authority over the one being observed. And if all teachers were trained how to observe and give feedback, the mere act of observing another teacher would help improve one’s own teaching practice.

Deena Bar Lev, a Maryland veteran teacher, wrote in part,

I am not disturbed by how frequent observations are, only how useless they have become. Our school system requires administrators to undergo a rigorous training program called Observing and Analyzing Teaching, part of the Studying Skillful Teaching franchise. Sadly, this process has virtually homogenized and sterilized the entire observation experience by requiring that the observer transcribe word for word what the teacher SAYS (“scripting”), leaving them little opportunity to even look up from their paper, and all but prohibiting them from noting all the REAL magic that goes on while teaching–the savvy proximal cues, subtle facial expressions, and animated gestures of the teacher—not to mention everything that is going on with the kids! The resulting “transcript” reads like Weber Gas Grill assembly instructions.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron began her public school teaching in Berkeley, California in 2001.

My classroom had no textbooks, there were at least 6 home languages represented in my room alone, and broken windows lined the halls. But each kid had my phone number and used it regularly for homework help. I paid for all of my supplies and began my self-funded classroom library, certain that this was an important step in student literacy. I’m sure almost every teacher has that same story at some time in his or her career. (But picture my first teaching gig, the morning of 9/11, and we didn’t even have a map in the school to show the kids where New York was.). Despite all of the challenges, during the time I was there, I don’t recall ever being observed formally by an administrator.

Donalyn Miller began teaching in Texas in 2002 and recalls,

… during my first year of teaching, both the assistant principal and principal checked on me regularly the first few weeks. After they figured out I was not clueless or dangerous, they did not stop by room other than to administer the mandatory three evaluations that Texas requires: two surprise walk-throughs and one formal 45 minute evaluation. No teachers watched me that year.

That has changed. I have had teachers watch me several times a year over the past few years.

Want some optimism?

Bill Ferriter is a North Carolina veteran teacher who says, “Things have changed some in the past 16 years. I know that new teachers today—at least at our school—are observed once or twice by their mentor in addition to any observations done by administrators. I also know that many schools make time for new teachers to get out of the classroom and observe other teachers in action. It’s not a required practice or a practice done by every school, but most principals see the value in finding release time for new teachers to do that.”

Ferriter reports that his state requires administrators to use what he calls a ‘brilliant’ evaluation instrument that requires the observer and the teacher to have meaningful conversations that could improve teaching.

He writes:

Problem is principals—-including accomplished principals—-hate the instrument because the amount of time to have the conversations is going to multiply their already jammed daily calendars. That’s going to mean one of two things: Either good principals kill themselves to do meaningful observations or the new instrument leads to no change in the way teachers receive feedback.

One principal told me that he’d love the new instrument if he didn’t have to spend 3 hours supervising the lunchroom each day. However, he loves supervising the lunchroom because it’s the only interaction that he has with the kids of his building, outside of discipline.

Until we rethink the role of the principal—the time they’re provided, the tasks they’re responsible for, the professional development they’re exposed to—-conversations about observations and evaluation are kind of pointless.

To wrap this up, that’s over a dozen teachers sharing their ideas and frustrations and highlighting two simultaneous problems–lack of evaluation and ineffective evaluation. Given that we seem to be moving inexorably toward some form of merit pay, how thoughtfully teachers are evaluated matters more than ever. And that means that we have to decide who does the evaluating and make sure they are prepared for the job.

What do you think? Are you a teacher who has (or hasn’t) been evaluated? How’d you find the process? What would you change?  Share your stories in the comments section.

Maybe together we can figure out a way to do better than the FDA!

25 thoughts on “Re-evaluating Teacher Evaluations

  1. While observation designed to improve the learning experience would of course be great, talking about whether or not observation is happening is mostly useless.
    It seems to me the discussion first needs to be about HOW teachers can motivate and facilitate effective learning AND how we’ll know if it’s effective.
    We then need the professional development opportunities that have the capabilities to enable teachers and observers to be able to do their work.
    Then we need the dedication and commitment that the observation AND follow-up dialogue / professional development is dedicated to improving teacher facilitation of effective learning.
    ONLY THEN will it make any sense to consider teacher observation – for the right / important reasons.
    What’s the possibility that such an approach will happen? Probably not much – even though the research shows it to be the optimum approach ….


  2. Peer review has become synonymous with observation of class time, but there is much more to learning success than the performance of the teacher. Valuable peer time could be spent looking at assignments, looking at student work, looking at rubrics and feedback, and looking at the social context of students’ effort. Looking mostly at the teacher misses the most important action. Are students spending time on learning activities in and out of class? How well constructed are those activities? What kind of feedback are they getting? What kind of understanding are they asked to demonstrate? I would rather have professional review time be spread to include those activities, not just a review of the teacher’s actions.


  3. Effective professional assessment that can actually lead to meaningful and transformative growth takes TIME. Rarely do schools have the luxury of a Dean of Faculty who is dedicated to this mission. Principals and department heads are managers who are a swamped with tasks — evaluation needs to be “checked off” their very long lists.


  4. I had a wonderful evaluator named Eileen O”Gorman. She sat at the back of the classroom with a chart of the room. When we met afterwards she asked me about several of the students by name, congratulated me on some interchanges and made suggestions on others. Her assistance helped me to think about students and their strengths individually, a practice that became a positive characteristic of my teaching.

    The great teacher, C. Roland Christensen at Harvard Business School knew the names of all of the 88 students in his class…a strong inducement to prepare.


  5. Thank you for this. I taught high school and briefly supervised student teachers for Temple University.

    Please consider the synergistic impact on teaching. Even a perfect system for observing and helping teachers may or may not improve teaching. Will it lead to more and better learning if the other aspects of schooling are not improved: discipline, books, buildings, etc?


  6. Accountability is fundamental to improvement , pride of ownership , sence of achievement with out it the subliminal conclusion has to be ” if no one cares what I do why should I ” . While that my be overly simplified its roots operate in any human organization .

    There are many ways to learn , some of the best ways are feed back and accountability , on the job observations and mentoring . There are independant programs for raising the effectiveness in schools that blow away the traditionally organized learning. These learning programs have systemic impack on school environments , preparation for life and achievment.

    Responsibility is one of the character traits of the type professionals that should be nurturing our children . Keep the commentary going we are in real need of it .


  7. Observation for what purpose? Compliance with state/district requirements? Oversight? Accountability? Improved teacher performance? Observation is only the first step in what should be a sequence of inter-related events:
    a) the principal’s observation of the teacher;
    b) the principal’s reflection on what he or she observed;
    c) consultation between the principal and teacher;
    d) collaborative identification by the principal and teacher of the teacher’s current learning needs;
    e) collaborative identification by the principal and teacher of the best means to meet the teacher’s learning needs;
    f) agreement between the principal and teacher on when and how the teacher will engage in the identified professional learning;
    g) agreement between the principal and teacher on approximately when the teacher will apply their new learning to the classroom;
    h) agreement between the principal and teacher on when it will be appropriate for the principal to again observe the teacher;
    h) the principal’s observation of the teacher to assess whether and how effectively the teacher is applying their new learning, and whether and how students are benefiting.
    Such a process never has a chance without absolute clarity about its purpose and, of course, if the first step doesn’t take place.


  8. I really liked this post. It is the kind of thing we need much more of these days: information from on the ground, from actually goes on in schools and in classrooms. Do more of this, John. Mike Rose.


  9. During my whole career I have been most impressed by the various collaborations that I have been involved in that assume that much learning is social. In my study with Diane Wood of the National Writing Project, I finally saw how it works in a supportive environment. That is what is missing in most evaluation schemes. It is not about finding fault, it is about helping teachers learn by building on what they already know, what can help them move forward, and what can help them become more thoughtful about the complexities of their classrooms. The move to involve mentors is a great step forward as good mentors learn how to engage teachers, while supporting their work.
    Teaching is incredibly complicated and we must fight the simplistic accountability schemes that assume it is simple and technical, but support those that embrace its complexity and provide the supportive conditions that make teachers partners.


  10. Thanks for the great post and comments. I found myself nodding at Hayes Mizell’s list, especially, which reminds me of the key “standard” of Reflection that the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards promotes (I’m not an NBCT) but which no school I know has bothered to systematize. John’s linking of this to the merit conversation is essential, and I thank him for doing that.

    Two things: I had my own very good experience (a la Kathleen Sullivan Alioto) but I also believe that principals need to know and do more.

    When I was a new teacher in MA, my English department chair — very experienced and professional, but very different from me style-wise — had an administrative cert and, it goes without saying, knew the curriculum backward and forward. He did four rigorous observations for me each year, met to debrief with me almost immediately each time, and gave me specific goals (we devised these together, but he made suggestions) and precise feedback. His work with me was extraordinarily valuable to me as a teacher.

    In PA, where I later settled, department chairs don’t have admin certs, so principals observe. The majority of my observers knew relatively little about the teaching of my subject at this school — this is not intended as a personal criticism of any of them, because that would be unfair.

    But for observations to be more valuable, principals do need to know more about what the departments do, central admin has to reprioritize observations much higher so principals never have the inclination to blow them off in favor of other things, and everyone has to have reflection atop the list of what professional teachers do. It might be hard to make peer look-ins part of the school’s culture but it would be invaluable if we could do that too.


  11. I have always said, “People Respect What You Inspect.” Actually I just read that statement by turnaround principal John O’Neil at www.

    Today’s Daily Oklahoma reports on the expensive multi-year process to dismiss one of the best teachers in the Oklahoma City Public School System “on grounds that he repeatedly neglected his duties and didn’t follow school policies like posting of zeros in his grade book and sending mass e-mails. Quigley’s attorneys said that his advocacy for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students was the reason” …”His outspokenness made him a very visible teacher in that district,” Melton said. “The administration at Northwest Classen High School has, for the last two years, done its best to set Mr. Quigley up to fail. Fortunately, he is too good a teacher and too strong a personality to be defeated by petty, nonteaching bureaucrats who put rules ahead of the children.” …”Attorneys also will seek legal fees and costs from the district, he said.
    Quigley said in an e-mail Wednesday that he is looking forward to returning to the classroom and hopes the district will add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the sections regarding harassment in the student and parent handbook, which is something he has worked for.”
    Then he addressed the real reason why the district tried to fire one of its highest performing teachers, “Perhaps, after this, emphasis will be placed back on giving students knowledge, as opposed training them to take tests. Give them the knowledge, they can ace any test; and their lives will be richer. Train them only to take tests, and you have suppliers of statistics with no souls,” Quigley wrote. “It is time for people to begin listening to the teachers who are close to their children, as opposed the educational ‘experts’ who are nowhere near the kids.”

    This is doubly important because our sister city was seeking a Gates grant where Value Added Models tested on 5th grade math scores would have been used to evaluate all teachers even though there is little chance that a growth model designed for elementary could ever be valid for high school much less hardcore inner city schools. Their model produced an estimate that 29% of elementary math teachers should be “exited” so such a model could have easily determined that 100% of my school’s teachers should be fired. Our school has the lowest scores in the state, but I’ve never seen a school with better teachers than we have.

    And real world, I’ve never seen an urban principal – no matter how good he or she is – who hasn’t gone months without letting classroom instruction enter into their consciousness. When a gang war breaks out, are administrators supposed to continue with their evaluation schedule? That’s one reason why the AFT’s Toledo Plan would be such an improvement.

    By the way, the data presented about Toledo in the TNTP “The Widget Effect” is false and they still haven’t corrected it. We need to negotiate new methods of evaluating teachers but when some “reformers” do not operate in good faith, the challenge becomes so much tougher. Similarly, how could anyone see Rhee 200 page evaluation system as good faith. A skilfull teacher has no more than five disruptions or time off task in 30 minutes? This is the mentality of people who see reality as just an old paradigm, and scorched eart politics as appropriate.


  12. Though my life took quite a different turn, I actually did teach high school English (in private schools) for two years: 1967-68 and 68-69. And, yes, that’s a long time ago! I don’t remember ever being evaluated or observed, despite the fact that I had had no teacher training whatsoever and my college major was art history. The rest of my teaching has been at the university level. And, guess what, apart from the student reviews at the end of the year, there was no observation or evaluation there either.

    Curious isn’t it that the idea of teacher observation or evaluation at the university level seems so, well, inappropriate, even for teaching assistants. I’m sure most university faculties would be outraged at the idea. But it does seem appropriate, or at least worth discussing, at the K-12 level. Do we think of university instructors as professionals but K-12 instructors as technicians?


  13. The fact that school leaders can’t give raises (serious raises, not the 1% raise that means you can buy one more Happy Meal a month) renders them insignificant. No wonder teachers and administrators are frustrated by them.


  14. I have mixed feelings on this. I have received very helpful feedback when my colleagues have sat in on my classes. I invited them to my class with the purpose of learning what worked (or not) from their perspective. I might feel differently if this observation was ‘forced’ and if I did not have a trusting relationship with the observer – that would add a ‘threat’ element to the experience.


  15. I have become a teacher in my late thirties after being a foster care caseworker, Consumer Credit Counselor, mortgage default counselor, nursery coordinator, pre-school teacher, and public school substitute. Our state (Louisiana) has a new teacher orientation system called LaTAAP, which is supposed to provide support and guidance to new teachers. What it actually does is create tension as new teachers are threatened with loosing their teaching credentials if they do not adhere strictly with Madeline Hunter and what leadership deems Bloom-inspired higher order thinking questions. Instead of feeling guided, I feel threatened. There is no room for student-directed discovery learning and everything is required to be cookie-cutter perfect. I’m criticized if my students’ notebooks do not get on their desks soon enough, if I take lesson time to praise a student with the entire class, or if I take too much time reissuing directions b/c the students have lost looks on their faces. I’m about fed up. Working in other fields did not take excessive time from my family or give me uclers from criticism.


  16. very good comments by all and worthy of a read; I thank you all. First hand reports from the trenches are worth more to me than all the teacher ed studies in the world.

    To wrap this up, that’s over a dozen teachers sharing their ideas and
    frustrations and highlighting two simultaneous problems–lack of evaluation and
    ineffective evaluation. Given that we seem to be moving inexorably toward some
    form of merit pay, how thoughtfully teachers are evaluated matters more than
    ever. And that means that we have to decide who does the evaluating and make
    sure they are prepared for the job.

    MUNRO: I have never suffered from lack of evaluation. We have a system of
    evaluation which is strict for new teachers especially. I find it incredible
    that new teachers were not visited by department chairs and administration. Good
    administrators get feedback from department chairs and learn to trust these
    reports FROM SPECIALISTS in the subject area. The biggest problem for
    evaluations is the lack of knowledge by the evaluators. Once I was teaching a
    class in Spanish AP literature (all in Spanish) but the evaluator did not
    understand one word of Spanish. I could have been teaching terrorism for all he
    knew. Also many evaluations are very biased. If they like you everything will
    go great. If they are out to get you all of sudden you are the world;’s worst
    teacher. Teachers are also punished by moving them around (sometimes twice a
    year) or denying them a permanent classroom and making them wander with a cart.

    A teacher’s biggest worry is nepotism. When a new principal comes it all bets
    are off. Department chairs will change, classroom assignments will change and
    the classes assigned to you can change at the drop of the hat. Woe to him or her
    who is not in the in crowd. Past achievements mean nothing. And the only
    response is to vote with your feet and seek greener pastures where one might be
    respected more. Knowledge and excellence mean little in the American classroom
    (I am not speaking of k-8) but principally 9-12. In local education it is who
    you know more than what you know. American high schools are principally holding
    pens and warehouses where learning happens almost accidentally. The chief
    purpose of American high schools and their highest aim is provide some ‘work
    force’ job training, liberal secular propaganda and ‘socialization’ punctuated
    by jolly picnics and cheap amusements.

    For the most part American schools are aimless and are point of fact murder
    machines of civility and culture. Some schools are neutral or mediocre and less
    likely to inflict harm and others are so chaotic, permissive and nightmarish
    that they mostly harm students AND teachers.

    One of the chief purposes of school is NOT ‘instruccion’ (formal education)
    alone but ‘educacion’ (teaching civility, good habits, respect and group
    discipline). When such teachings in the mores of society are lacking -in the
    school, in the home, in our houses of God, in our public squares, young people
    will become coarsened. One of the purposes of school is to help young people
    go through a difficult and painful transitional time of their life with patient
    guidance so as to avoid much misery , bitterness and remorse later in their
    lives. Boot camp is not so the D.I. can lord it over you. Boot camp is meant
    to inculcate group discipline to save lives.

    So even though I am a strong supporter of access to public schools and a
    graduate of public schools and a teacher in public schools I sympathize with
    parents who home school their children. Home schooling is, in my opinion, an
    inferior way to educate children as compared to an excellent formal school. But
    the truth is that many formal schools have degenerated and really are places of
    great incivility, danger and moral turpitude.

    If schools cannot be safe places then they ought to be reconstituted. Or
    parents should exercise their right to withdraw from the public system. The
    rich do this , of course, and segregate themselves in elite academies.

    But what are middle and lower middles class people to do. All they have is love
    and, perhaps, time to dedicate to their children.

    In the face of that challenge -any parent -me included would withdraw from the
    public school system. All is not lost, of course, and there are many fine
    principals, good parents, and dedicated teachers who will not throw in the towel
    and carry on despite every difficulty. But American public schools k-16 are
    very diverse. But let’s be honest. There are serious problems and their are
    the good , the bad and the very ugly. And the tragedy is the ugliest and least
    efficient consume the most money and resources.


  17. AMELIA AGUSTUS SAID: Please consider the synergistic impact on teaching. Even a perfect system for observing and helping teachers may or may not improve teaching. Will it lead to more and better learning if the other aspects of schooling are not improved: discipline, books, buildings, etc?

    MUNRO: It is vital to have the strength of an organization to teach efficiently. One needs good materials and books. One needs a clean well-lit QUIET and ORDERLY place to learn, to read , to study and to listen. Cantina like atmospheres are not conducive to learning. To convviality maybe but not to learning and of coourse that kind of atmosphere is generally very disrepectful for the teacher.

    Schools must have effective policies that develop group civility and group discipline or they will fail


  18. I liked very much what Richard r Pieper sr said: Accountability is fundamental to improvement , pride of ownership , sence of achievement with out it the subliminal conclusion has to be ” if no one cares what I do why should I ” . While that my be overly simplified its roots operate in any human organization .

    This is a major problem with NCLB and our CST (California Standards tests). I don’t mind being judged on my student’s performance to some degree. I taught AP for years and analysed the results very carefully so as to improve student performance though I realized that the AP test was just one narrow instrumrent as to the successfulness of the instruction. But AP students 90% of the time really cared about the results and so strived to do their best, come to review sessions etc. So student performance -gradually getting better over the years as the core of 2’s became 3’s 4’s and 5’s and 1’s beame almost non existent- was related to the experience and training of the teacher and his or her efforts. But when there is no accountablity for the student these multi-million dollar states tests are really almost worthless. I give them because it is my duty to give them but I learn much more about my students from their actual classroom performance in the English medium or Spanish medium, answering, writing and contributing to the class discussion.
    No scantron test of mere MC bubbles is sufficient. Such tests are , in fact, at best a necessary evil and at worse are academic junk food. I know they make kids hate school and teachrs too. That is something to think about.


  19. As a third grade teacher in Massachusetts I am evaluated by my principal, on a state determined basis, but what’s more, my principal pops in, at least once a week informally. At these informal viewings he always leaves a note of what he saw and questions for me to think about – I really like it. I also find the formal observations helpful – mainly because the feedback is useful and pointed. My principal was once an excellent teacher himself and his opinions and insights are excellent – so, if the observer is good, the information is good, and isn’t that the way it should be?


  20. I also agreed with
    Carl Rosin says:In PA, where I later settled, department chairs don’t have admin certs, so principals observe. The majority of my observers knew relatively little about the teaching of my subject at this school — this is not intended as a personal criticism of any of them, because that would be unfair.

    MUNRO: This is a major problem and good principals DO rely on informal observations of Department Chairs as well as reports on the standarized tests. They are not a pefect instrument -especially when there is no accuntablity for the students. In my experience students work HARD on AP tests and CAHSEE (exit exams in English and Math) but blow off CST’s (California State tests) which have no effect on their promotion or graduation. Ranking teachers by such results for merit would result in many injustices and would deeply demoralize many teachers especially those who teach Special Ed or ELD students.


  21. Rich Haglund says:The fact that school leaders can’t give raises (serious raises, not the 1% raise that means you can buy one more Happy Meal a month) renders them insignificant. No wonder teachers and administrators are frustrated by them.

    MUNRO: This is a good point of course. But principals have enormous power. They can decide where you teach and what classes you get. If you are a very hard worker you will get extra assignments grading CELDT (exams for English learners) at your hourly rate, after school classes, some some work if you need it (teachers are on an 11 month pay schedule so many struggle in the summer. I have worked every summer of my professional career EXCEPT when I went abroad three summers to study Spanish. But it is a problem when AP teachers do not get recognition or extra pay. They opperate chiefly on altrusism.


  22. So, what role does observation & evaluation play in the development of good teachers? I’ve been told I’m a so-called ‘master’ teacher, whatever that means. In my first school, a small alternative high school where I taught for more than a decade, we wrote our own evaluations & our program coordinator signed them– without venturing into a classroom to watch.

    If the kids were developing skills, participating, taking intellectual or creative risks every once in a while, we were doing our jobs. If the kids weren’t, we each knew it; we also knew *we* had to change something, pronto. There’s lots of reflection involved in this kind of teaching.

    But it takes two to tango. We’d ask the kids to give anonymous feedback about specific aspects of the class, but we’d also ask them to assess what they were or weren’t bringing to the table.

    What on earth could a third party, an outsider, add to this team effort?

    Maybe we need to reframe the idea of observation. How much more positive to think of it as a visit and a conversation, one that would be part of an ongoing dialog over the course of a teacher’s time working with the administrator.

    Oh, wait–that would mean teacher and administrator would have to share mutual respect and have some kind of collegial relationship. Do we do that in school anymore? More and more frequently, it seems we don’t….


  23. I’ll gear this review to 2 types of people: current Zune owners who are considering an upgrade, and people trying to decide between a Zune and an iPod. (There are other players worth considering out there, like the Sony Walkman X, but I hope this gives you enough info to make an informed decision of the Zune vs players other than the iPod line as well.)


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