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Where are teacher evaluations getting us? Part 1

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

What decides whether a teacher is doing a satisfactory or unsatisfactory job? How do we as teachers know if we are meeting the teaching standards the School District of Philadelphia has decided upon, and what they are? Where does the common language come from that is used to facilitate the most important conversations administrators and teachers can have? Do evaluations lead to better student outcomes?

In part one of this series, we’ll review what teacher evaluation looks like now.

Beginning in the 2009-10 school year the School District of Philadelphia adopted Charlotte Danielson’s “Framework for Teaching.” Each teacher in the District was given a copy of “Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Professional Practice." The book details 25 instructional practice standards. Schools were encouraged to discuss the standards at professional development meetings and throughout the year as evaluations were done. The observation form administrators use to rate teachers was developed using Danielson’s standards.

Starting last year, administrators evaluated all teachers using all 25 standards from Danielson’s framework.

Teachers are formally evaluated according to their professional status:

  • Tenured teachers (those with three years of satisfactory teaching in the District) receive an annual formal observation. If a tenured teacher receives an unsatisfactory rating, they are to receive semi-annual observations for a three-year period.
  • Temporary professional employees (less than three years teaching), long-term substitutes, and provisional employees all receive semi-annual formal observations.

A formal observation process should begin with a pre-conference between a teacher and an administrator. The purpose of the the pre-conference is to both start a dialogue about teaching expectations and discuss the goals of the lesson to be observed. The pre-conference is also a time to review lesson plans and begin filling out a very long observation form.

Within one 45-minute lesson an administrator needs to identify how a teacher performs within four domains of teaching:

  • planning and preparation,
  • classroom environment,
  • instruction, and
  • professionalism.

There are 15 "core" instructional practices and 10 "remaining" instructional practices spread across the four domains. A four point scoring scale is used to rate a teacher’s performance in each standard. For each instructional practice, teachers can receive a rating of:

  • 1-does not meet standard,
  • 2-approaches standard,
  • 3-meets standard, or
  • 4-exceeds standard.

In order for a teacher to be given a satisfactory observation, a rating of 3 must be evident for 12 of the 15 core instructional practices. A rating of 1 in any of the core instructional practices automatically constitutes an unsatisfactory rating. Additionally, a teacher cannot accrue more than three 1 ratings among the remaining instructional practices.

A description of teacher behavior accompanies each rating. For example, the rating descriptors for instructional practice 2.1 in the classroom environment domain are:

  • 1-Classroom does not reflect or inappropriately reflects students’ cultures
  • 2-Classroom may not completely or appropriately reflect students’ cultures
  • 3-Classroom appropriately reflects students’ cultures
  • 4-Classroom appropriately reflects students’ cultures, levels of development, and is integrated appropriately to content

(underlines from observation form)

The teacher observation form instructs administrators to write down comments based on evidence observed in the classroom for each instructional practice standard. "Substantial evidence" is needed for any ratings of 1 or not applicable. The form is very clear that a 4 is rare. "A rating of 4 exceeds standards, is considered distinguished, and is rarely evident in all categories.” (No one lives there.) Feedback on all 25 standards is accompanied by a summary of the observations, recommendations, and strengths witnessed.

The final product is supposed to facilitate the post-observation conference. It is in the post-conference where administrators and teachers have the "courageous conversation" about instruction. Recommendations are given to the teacher and a professional development plan is mapped out. In the event of an unsatisfactory observation, a consequences form is filled out. An unsatisfactory observation can lead to an unsatisfactory rating for the year.

In part two of this evaluation series, I would like to expound on the value of the one-shot formal observation, as well as discuss other observation methods and implementations.

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