Teacher Observations and the Common Core: "Assessment Techniques"
Teacher observations have always been a point of stress and contention among educators. Although there are a few of us who are so confident that the looming observation date doesn’t necessarily make our palms sweaty, the vast majority stress for the week, if not longer, before the big day.
I can still hear the clicking of the keyboard keys as the laptop replaced the yellow legal pad on which the fate of my observation was recorded by my principal. It gives me chills. I’ve experienced observations in which there were both pre and post conferences with my observer, where I was able to articulate the plan and then reflect upon its areas of strengths and weaknesses. It was time consuming and fairly stressful depending upon my relationship with the observer. I’ve also experienced observations were the observer came in simply for the 30-40 minute lesson only to follow up with a formal typed evaluation received via email or in my school mailbox. It was like pulling off a Band-aid, quick and only somewhat painful. In the end, when those lesson observations were good, it was oh so good, and when they were bad I wished for a second chance, a do-over, to prove that it didn’t always go that way. Maybe I was having an off day or my students were. Maybe I was stressing about something in my personal life or was wearing uncomfortable shoes. Anything could contribute to the lesson going not quite right. Sadly, I’d have to wait months, and after tenure, a full year before I got the chance to redeem myself.
When I really think about it, it’s kind of like those standardized tests we administer to our students. Maybe the student is having an off day, didn’t eat breakfast, fought with his mom, or the weather just isn’t quite right. The test can immediately become more stressful, confusing, and frustrating simply due to a lack of focus and it would be another year before the chance for a do-over. Like once a year teacher observations, standardized tests can determine what the following year will look like, what kind of remediation (professional development) or praise (committee appointments, awards, honors) the assessed would receive. There is a lot riding on that one evaluation day.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of books, articles, blogs, and workshops about why standardized testing isn’t the best way to assess students’ learning, development, and academic growth. The same, in my opinion, can be said for the once a year observation that has been used for years to assess and evaluate teachers. When it comes to the new teacher evaluation model I believe that there are both promising and cautionary aspects and like in every new system, there are kinks that must be worked out. Yet, I can’t help but appreciate the fact that in the Danielson, Marshall, and Marzano teacher supervision and evaluation models administrators are being asked to visit the classrooms often and to have conversations with teachers about teaching. No more will the click of the computer keys haunt teachers’ dreams. Instead, administrators and teachers will be expected to discuss the job of educating our children more consistently and on a deeper level. This has to be a preferable scenario. After all, the battle teachers have been fighting regarding standardized testing centers around the fact that no one form of assessment can accurately measure the whole child. Likewise, neither can one observation measure the achievements, strengths, and areas of improvement for teachers.
In my graduate courses I’ve heard teachers express concern about the fact that they will now be judged using a rubric in which a perfect score is inconceivable. Some administrators are telling their teachers that they “live in” the proficient or effective level and “visit” the highly proficient or highly effective level. At first, I was totally turned off by this idea. Who wants to “live” in the level below the best? Yet after carefully researching and reviewing the way the rubrics are designed, I can see that the ultimate goal is not to make teachers feel inferior or less than highly effective, but to emphasize the fact that although you cannot be the best at everything you may have some areas of real talent above the norm. Marshall (2009) even states that the “proficient” level in her evaluation rubric lists characteristics of “mastery” teaching. Former evaluation techniques and observation models permitted those of us who scored perfectly to be unaffected by the feedback from our administration. “Yeah, I’m doing great, thanks for letting me know.” The new rubrics will force administrators to look at the whole teacher, and when best practices are modeled, ensure that administrators communicate what is above and beyond the call of teacher responsibility, practices beyond mastery level. Teachers will hopefully see the “highly proficient” areas checked on their rubrics as strengths of which they should be truly proud.
In choosing to see the movement toward a more inclusive and broader teacher supervision and evaluation model as a positive one, we can remain optimistic that the result will be more involved administrators and more open communication between all members of the school community.
Ms. Amy D. Lewis is the Designer of the newly revised course for the Regional Training Center for TCNJ and Gratz College entitiled, "Assessment Tecniques: Assessing for Student Learning." She is co-designer of "The Gendered Brain" and an instrucotor for Kagan's "Cooperative Learning."
Danielson, C. (2007). Enhancing professional practice: a framework for teaching. (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Marshall, K. (2009). Rethinking teacher supervision and evaluation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.