The Stark Realities of Teacher Evaluation (with Hope for the Future)

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If you ask a sample of teachers, “Why evaluate teachers?” they may tell you “it’s the law,” or “it’s just for compliance!” Ask administrators, and they often say the same. But the million-dollar question is this one: How do we transform a time-consuming, labor-intensive compliance issue into a meaningful experience for teachers? That transformation begins with a growth mindset, one that views a teacher evaluation model as an overarching system designed for improving teacher pedagogy.

For decades, teacher evaluation has been a subject of intense debate, and not surprisingly, teachers are often “the biggest critics of their current, narrative evaluation systems and the strongest proponents of a more specific and rigorous approach” (Marzano & Toth, 2013). Most observers and teachers would agree upon three consistent points of contention around traditional teacher evaluation: 1) perceived inequities in the system, 2) models that are too complex for teachers to understand, and 3) lack of meaningful feedback to support teacher growth. How can our next generation of evaluation systems address these issues?

Eliminate Perceived Inequities

“Mrs. Johnson and I share lesson plans. We use the same resources and have the same technology in our classrooms. If I’m teaching the same content as she is, and using the same resources, then why did we get different scores on our end of year evaluations?”

Are there, in fact, persistent and widespread inequities in evaluation? Research data collected by Learning Sciences Marzano Center for Teacher and Leader Effectiveness has consistently shown that teacher evaluation scores remain unchanged during the last decade of evaluation reform. The Widget Effect is still alive and well. When we review current data on teacher evaluation, we find that the majority of teachers still receive ratings of “effective” or “highly effective.”  And according to new studies, administrators persistently inflate evaluation results to avoid the extra time it takes to coach underperforming teachers (Matthews, 2017).

Too many teachers don’t receive adequate professional development in their evaluation systems. Teachers need time to learn their models and process the nuances, and to practice strategies in a safe environment before formal evaluations. In-depth training can go a long way to eliminating misperceptions about unfair scoring.

Districts need to invest in training for teachers to support complete understanding of their evaluation models. Teachers must know exactly what behaviors will be observed, and what teacher and student evidences will be used, to assign a rating during an observation. Additionally, using an evidence-based system will help eliminate perceived evaluation inequities.

Reduce Complexity with Increased Support for Standards-Aligned Instruction

Many evaluation models are composed of multiple categories, techniques, domains, and complex scoring rubrics designed to measure teacher proficiency. These intricate systems lead to more time spent trying to unpack and understand the system than on developing teacher instructional strategies that support the rigors of standards-based curriculum.

Instead of asking teachers and observers to deal with overly complex systems, next-generation evaluation models should focus on evaluating instructional competencies that potentially have the greatest impact on student achievement. These competencies should scaffold instruction from foundational learning to more complex instructional strategies that require students to develop the cognitively complex thinking skills required by rigorous standards. And, most importantly, as teachers implement instructional strategies, evaluation systems should require student evidence of learning as the measure of teacher effectiveness.

Focus on Specific Feedback to Improve Teaching and Student Learning

In 2014, Marzano and Toth published an analysis of 2.1 million teacher evaluation data points which illustrated that a disproportionate amount of classroom time was devoted to instructional strategies closely associated with lecture, practice, and review—essentially, teacher-centered instruction.

21st-century evaluation systems must help accelerate the shift from basic instructional strategies to more complex strategies that help students meet new standards. The only way to effectively accomplish this shift is for administrators to provide teachers with specific feedback. Administrators must develop their skills to provide clear feedback focused not only on instructional strategies, but on the student learning that is taking place in the classroom.

An effective teacher evaluation model should be built with feedback as an integral component.  It should be designed to grow teacher pedagogy by prioritizing student evidence of learning. Most importantly, the evaluation instrument itself should guide the feedback process, using both teacher and student evidences, to support administrators struggling to “find the time to coach” underperforming teachers.

When an evaluation system aligns a focus on teacher improvement with targeted feedback for growth and the use of student evidence, it will have the potential to meet the true intention of teacher evaluation – to measure performance, improve pedagogy, and impact student learning.


Dr. Beverly Carbaugh is Vice President and Senior Fellow of Learning Sciences Marzano Center for Teacher and Leader Evaluation. She is a co-author of School Leadership for Results: Shifting the Focus of Leader Evaluation.

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