To say that the past five years in education has been entrenched in change would be an understatement. Ongoing changes to teaching standards and the shifting sands of accountability have left our profession running what seems to be a constant sprint, and just when I thought I was catching my breath, we see the requirement for new teacher evaluation mechanisms. Districts rushed to analyze and implement new programs – adding more requirements into an already overburdened system. The result was a confusing implementation of a mish-mash of programs – many relying upon the models developed by Robert Marzano or Charlotte Danielson.
There is an irony associated with a system that acknowledges the importance of reflection and careful planning in its work, and yet sees continual implementation of significant change by policy makers/educational leaders. It has been over a year since revised teacher evaluation processes have been implemented in Arizona. Has our profession, and more importantly our students, benefited from this change? If the goal of policy makers was to remove so-called “bad” teachers from the profession, then what does it mean when current research of evaluation systems shows that most teachers fall into the category of “effective”? Do these programs consider the classroom and teachers in its true holistic form?
With the recent announcement of changes to the National Board professional teacher certification process, and having participated in the first year of teacher evaluation, I have seriously undertaken reflected on this question: Why did we build a new teacher evaluation system when we already had a proven, professional certification process?
As a nationally board certified teacher I have experienced powerful changes to my practice – an outcome of the national board certification process. Now, newly announced changes offer teachers the ability to achieve national certification with lower costs and more flexibility in the timeframes for submitting portfolio entries. What hasn’t changed is the rigorous performance-based, peer-reviewed system where teachers can demonstrate their content knowledge and commitment to student learning. This proven system also addresses two areas of weakness that pervades existing teacher evaluation reform: 1) refocusing teaching as an objective science and, 2) the inability to offer a differentiated system that addresses teacher experience levels and the needs of different teacher subgroups (resource, art, physical education, etc.)
Teachers agree that the work done in the classroom is a process of reflection: What to teach, how to teach and assess it, and lastly how to improve what has been taught. Unfortunately, many of the objective processes of teacher evaluation do not involve reflection – rather reaction. Questions such as “What can I do better with a particular lesson?” have been replaced with “Why did I get that score?” This is understandable since most evaluation system “break down” a lesson in objective tidbits. For example, focusing attention on a routine to place students into groups minimizes classroom realities: individual student behaviors that are outside of a teacher’s control. I have had classes where my student population only allowed me to group students in pairs. Whenever I tried larger groups students tended to have difficulty accomplishing work. How student’s transition into groups represents a small part of the overall goal of a lesson, and may have little to do with positive instructional outcomes for students. I agree that it is important to have routines and they should be efficient, however, having it weighted the same as other instructional aspects (i.e. assessment routines) seem problematic. The National Board Certification process has a better answer – link reflection of a student population to instructional goals and outcomes. All portfolio entries ask teachers to link their student population to instructional goals and processes. In the end, each portfolio entry is a reflective analysis where a teacher demonstrates: 1) strong content knowledge, 2) learning experiences that link to student achievement, 3) assessment data that informs instruction, and 4) links partnerships with colleagues and parents.
Effective teachers understand the importance of differentiating learning experiences based on the needs of students. In contrast to this, a major gap within evaluation systems is the inability to differentiate teachers – especially in terms of experience. New teachers are evaluated in the same manner as experienced teachers – allowing little room for constructive, reflective feedback that builds confidence. As a classroom teacher for seven years, I remember the stress associated with my first two years of teaching. Adding the performance burden of a highly objective evaluation system does not build confidence. However, it may accomplish the goal of exiting teachers from the field. For experienced teachers, the process of evaluation absorbs time from curriculum planning, working with colleagues, and committee/school-based activities. A popular response by school districts is to evaluate experienced teachers “less often”; however, this may have more to do with the time demands of evaluation by administrators/evaluators. Using the National Board Certification process could resolve these issues. For new teachers it would give them the opportunity to build their portfolio entries through reflective practice. The results of this process could be incorporated into evaluation systems satisfying feedback and accountability concerns. For more experienced teachers, National Board Certification offers the same reflection opportunities and the chance to share “best teaching” practices with colleagues.
Another concern of existing evaluation models is the inability to address the needs of different teacher subgroups (resource, art, physical education, etc.) Many districts are struggling to find effective ways to fairly evaluate different teaching subgroups. Some proposed alternative evaluation systems are developing portfolio-based alternatives (see Eric Robelen’s Ed Week article entitled “Classroom Portfolios Used as Alternative Teacher-Evaluation Measure”, 9-17-13). National Board Certification addresses the needs of ALL teachers (special education and special area teachers) and provides differing standards and portfolio requirements. With ongoing concerns about budgets related to common core implementations and the time commitments required to implement these new portfolio system, it seems to make more sense to use the proven National Board process.
National Board Certification offers a cost-effective alternative to address two of the central issue related to teacher evaluation reform. The peer-reviewed nature of National Board Certification ensures something that most teacher evaluation models can’t deliver – evaluative feedback based on the truly holistic nature of teaching. If teacher evaluation is a process of accountability then National Board Certification offers us an alternative that sends the most powerful accountability message to our students and parents.