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Study: Infrequent Teacher Evaluations Don’t Identify The Best (or Worst) Teachers

by Staff

Baylor University recently beefed up its evaluation and hiring practices for the school’s lecturers.

Adjunct faculty are often re-hired and dismissed based on annual or twice yearly student evaluations. Certainly, poor reviews are often earned. However, it is the exceptional college or university which integrates the evaluation of temporary faculty into the same system with which tenure-line faculty are evaluated. The result of this almost uniform shoddy oversight is a myriad of problems ranging from grade inflation to poor student outcomes. Results of a new study on K-12 teacher evaluation offers up strong reasons why colleges and universities should drastically overhaul simplistic evaluation methods and replace them with more comprehensive systems. In addition, it’s clear that more frequent evaluation is needed to identify the best (and worst) faculty members teaching in the classroom.

Once-a-year evaluations aren’t enough to help teachers improve, says a report by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

And school districts using infrequent classroom observations to decide who are their best—and their worst—teachers could be making some big mistakes, according to the second part of a multi-year study from the foundation.

Preliminary results were posted online January 6, 2012.

Good teacher evaluations require multiple nuanced observations by trained evaluators. Those results should be combined with other measures, such as student test scores and classroom surveys, to gather enough information to both evaluate teachers and help them improve, the researchers found after nationwide experiments involving thousands of teachers.

The most common teacher evaluation method used by school districts today—a single classroom observation once every few years has only a 33 percent chance of resulting in an accurate assessment of a teacher, the researchers found.

“This confirms what many teachers have been saying for years: That when high stakes decisions are being made, school districts should allow for more than one observation,” said Tom Kane, deputy director of the Seattle-based Gates Foundation’s education program and leader of the research project.

Teachers across the nation are getting too little feedback and are being left alone to figure out what they need to do to improve, says Vicki Phillips, director of the foundation’s education program. If the nation is serious about improving the quality of its teachers, improving evaluation and feedback should be an important element of that effort.

For the past two years, the foundation has been working to build a fair and reliable system of teacher evaluation and feedback to help teachers improve their craft and assist school administrators in their personnel decisions.

This report comes amid efforts across the country to change the way teachers are evaluated. Most of the new systems are a direct result of a call by the federal government for education reform, and many are finding implementation of the evaluation systems difficult.

The core of the Gates Foundation study was a collection of digital videos of more than 13,000 lessons in classrooms of teachers who volunteered to be studied.

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