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One piece of the whole (article by Linda Darling-Hammond)

March 20, 2014
American Educator
GSE Professor Linda Darling-Hammond details how teacher evaluation and training and collaboration create a healthy environment for teaching.
Linda Darling-Hammond

Teacher Evaluation as Part of a Comprehensive System for Teaching and Learning

The United States is at a critical moment in teacher evaluation. The evaluation process is undergoing extensive changes,  some of them quite radical, in nearly every state and district across the country. As we embark on these reforms, it is crucial for schools, teachers, and, especially, students that new policies improve the quality of teaching while avoiding pitfalls that could damage education. It is imperative that we not substitute new problems for familiar ones, but that we instead use this moment of transformation to get teacher evaluation right.

Virtually everyone agrees that teacher evaluation in the United States needs an overhaul. Existing systems rarely help teachers improve or clearly distinguish those who are succeeding from those who are struggling. The tools that are used do not always represent the important features of good teaching. It is nearly impossible for principals, especially in large schools, to have sufficient time or content expertise to evaluate all of the teachers they supervise, much less to address the needs of some teachers for intense instructional support. And many principals have not had access to the professional development and support they need to become expert instructional leaders and evaluators of teaching. Thus, evaluation in its current form often contributes little either to teacher learning or to accurate, timely information for personnel decisions.

These problems are long-standing. They were obvious when my colleagues and I first studied U.S. teacher evaluation systems in the early 1980s. As part of a Rand Corporation study, Arthur Wise, Milbrey McLaughlin, Harriet Bernstein, and I searched the country for effective evaluation systems and found ourselves rummaging for the proverbial needle in a haystack. We discovered only a very few that offered opportunities for teachers to set goals and receive regular, useful feedback, along with systems that could support both learning and timely, effective personnel decisions.

There were some bright spots, like the then-brand-new Toledo Peer Assessment and Review (PAR) model—a labor-management breakthrough that introduced intensive mentoring and peer evaluation for both novice teachers and struggling veterans, and that ensured serious decisions for tenure and continuation.* Also noteworthy was the Greenwich, Connecticut, model of teacher goal-setting and continuous feedback—which involved teachers in collecting evidence about their practice and student learning long before this was fashionable elsewhere. Although the use of some of these successful models has spread, the broad landscape for teacher evaluation has changed little, and impatience with the results of weak systems has grown.

As my colleagues and I found in our research nearly 30 years ago, and as I experienced as a high school teacher some years ago myself, most teachers want more from an evaluation system. They crave useful feedback and the challenge and counsel that would enable them to improve. Far from ducking the issue of evaluation, they want more robust systems that are useful, fair, and pointed at productive development.

Read the full article in the American Educator.

Read a report by Linda Darling-Hammond on how to use teacher assessment to improve teaching.