Spirit of the Law vs. Letter of the Law – Thoughts on Teacher Evaluations

In 2010 the Colorado State Senate passed Senate Bill 191, which, among other things, mandated a new system of teacher and administrator evaluation. As part of its reform initiatives, my district modified the SB 191 mandates and tied them to a pay-for-performance program.

Now, I tend to be an optimist by nature, but this post is going to highlight a few of my concerns (now that the reforms are being initiated). Please forgive my pessimism, err, I mean professional criticism. From my brain to yours:

Not all evaluators are created equal.

Five administrative evaluators at my school from five wildly different backgrounds that have wildly different abilities to observe, communicate, coach, and judge teachers effectiveness. This wouldn’t be an issue in a perfect and ideal world, but we – of course – do not live in a such a place.

Word has already began to spread around my building as to who was rated Highly Effective, Effective, and so on, with conversations (and sometimes debates) as to why one teacher was rated HE over another.

“HE was rated highly effective? Wow, I want his evaluator.”

I’ve also heard such questions and comments from parents and, alas, students.

(Exasperated sigh.)

This can’t be healthy in the long run.

Teachers are bound to do what students do when they encounter a teacher they don’t want. They’re going to do whatever they can to request another evaluator.

Mark my words.

A body of evidence can be faked.

I’m still a tad bit fuzzy on this, but the idea of some sort of ePortfolio keeps coming up. Apparently we’re to record Professional Growth stuff and are encouraged to begin documenting “evidence” that can be used to indicate whether we are Highly Effective, Effective, etc.

See, I’m all for teachers blogging, networking, and collaborating with each other. I’ve been a huge supporter of ideas like the 180-Project (though I have yet to initiate my own). The thought, however, of having to curate some sort of collection to show an evaluator misses the mark entirely for me.

I think evaluators should know what’s going on in classrooms without having to visit an ePortfolio … and that teachers should not have to rely on some sort of self-promotion to make a mark. What’s to stop a teacher from giving some sort of silly assignment and then simply taking pictures to post in their collection along with smartly written descriptions that say all the right things in order to impress an evaluator?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think an ePortfolio that supplies links to authentic student products is different. But will an evaluator take the time to visit these links to ascertain their validity?

To me it kind of reeks of more bureaucracy and less opportunity for meaningful feedback, which is opposite of what I think an observation should provide.

I suppose some sort of peer-reviewed ePortfolio may receive less criticism from me, but now we’re talking time and energy most of us simply don’t have – unfortunately. Mandating portfolios seems like a symptom of a larger issue: administrators are already overburdened and to bandaid this teachers must curate their ideas to prove their own effectiveness, which, depending on the level of scrutiny, may be exaggerated.

The playing field is certainly not level.

I’ve taught 8 different courses in 7 different classrooms in my time at my current school. The reasons for this are complex – some stemming from choices I made to help smooth other teachers’ schedules; some stemming from a “somebody needs to do it” rationale. Regardless, I’ve traveled and challenged myself with multiple courses.

Several of my colleagues have taught as few as two courses and have not traveled. They have amassed tremendous resources (some would say “hoarded”) and have grown rather comfortable with their situations. Sure, a few have continued to push and challenge themselves by learning new approaches, but most have “gotten better” by becoming more efficient and entertaining.

What’s my point?

A portion of our CITE and therefore our pay for performance is affected by students testing. Is it apples-to-apples when a teacher travels from classroom to classroom while another doesn’t? Furthermore, at our school students select from one of four Academies  Might it matter if one science teacher has primarily Science and Engineering students and another has Visual and Performing Arts students? No doubt it will, but by how much is not known.

Bottom line: how can this NOT create an environment that pits teacher against teacher based on classroom and course assignments and student enrollment?

Forget micromanagement… it’s time to introduce a new term: nanomanagement.

Micro means 1/1,000,000th, it’s the scale of microbes and cells.

Nano means 1/1,000,000,000th, it’s the scale of molecules and certain wavelengths of light.

Nano, my friend, is smaller than micro.

What happens if a school’s evaluators judge a large number of their teachers as Highly Effective relative to other schools? What will eventually raise district alarms? Surely there will be disparity from one school to another, but what will result in “reassessment” of a school’s evaluations? I suppose there term I’m dancing around is “quota.”

It’s one thing for building-level administration to micromanage classrooms, but I think this system will result in more and more district-level management of classrooms, heretofore referred to as nanomanagement. Not only will nanomanagement frustrate building-level educators, it may also result in ineffective communication when Principals are, for whatever reasons, not as informed as their teachers. Think about it. Suppose I attend a district-level training and am told new information, which I pass along to my colleagues. If my Principal doesn’t hear the same information because he/she wasn’t at the training, then we may have an issue. How much tolerance will we all have for ambiguity and multiple answers to the same question of protocol?


Okay, I suppose I feel better now. Like I said, I just felt like getting a few things off my chest. I hope I’m terribly wrong about this stuff.

Good talk…

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