Whether called evaluations, appraisals or assessments, nearly every district in the U.S. and Canada measures educator performance, but few say their efforts result in improved teacher effectiveness.
“We want to make sure evaluations aren’t being done just to be done,” said Tiago Gadens, HRIS manager at Framingham Public Schools in Massachusetts. “I think that’s a problem across every district.”
According to some experts, that problem stems from developing compliance-driven, documentation-focused performance management processes that overlook the true goal of performance appraisals: improving student achievement.
“The mechanics of supervision and evaluation should never distract supervisors from achieving district goals,” said Lisa Andrejko, Ed.D., strategic education advisor at TalentEd and former teacher, principal, director of technology and superintendent. “Processes are the means to the end, but not the end itself.”
So why do district leaders fall into the trap of developing compliance-focused processes? Rapidly changing policies may be to blame.
“We’ve got to be very mindful about external changes — state and federal policies, for example — that are substantial drivers of change,” said Tony Davis, Ph.D., project consultant for McREL International and 28-year veteran education who held roles as a teacher, assistant principal, principal and K-12 human resources administrator. “Can our profession rapidly adapt to those policy changes? Historically, I would say that we struggle with that.”
To better handle those drivers of change, Tony suggests creating a culture of continuous improvement that keeps students at the forefront of all adaptation discussions.
“There are really three ways you create a culture of continuous improvement,” he explained. “First, you have to be very clear that the purpose of evaluation is to support professional practice, rather than being compliance-based or punitive. Second, make sure people understand that it’s not one-sided or only supervisor-driven. It has to be a collaborative effort between the principal and the teacher. Finally, you have to use the data you gather during evaluations to allocate professional learning resources at the district, school and individual level.”
Maj. Jeremy Coombs, principal of Willamette Leadership Academy (WLA) in Oregon, has tackled this issue head-on by implementing a performance management plan that is compliant, collaborative and data-based.
“One of our school administrators or I do walkthroughs about five times a month and then do formal observations once a month and formal evaluations twice a year,” Coombs said. “Also, some of our teachers do quick walkthroughs of each other, and at the beginning and end of the year, we look at their student learning goals and their performance data to see what they need to adjust.”
But effectively identifying and analyzing the right data sets is key to taking advantage of this collaborative, data-driven evaluation method.
“Districts really have to determine which data are important to them,” Lisa explained. “It’s impossible to focus on everything.”
Read Part 2 for information on K-12 districts can collect and analyze meaningful performance data.