Evaluations and Educator Growth: Four critical questions for supporting teachers

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By Julia Ramsey

Performance assessment systems have a reputation for being rigid and intimidating, largely because of a focus on compliance over growth — “How well did this teacher conform to the rubric?” versus “How much has this teacher grown in their practice?”

But as the pandemic upended teaching and learning environments, many states have hit the pause button on performance reviews and begun to rethink their role.

Colorado, for example, is taking major steps to reshape their system starting with the 2023-24 school year after new state legislation reduced the role that students’ standardized test scores play in a teacher’s rating. Other changes include rubrics that are differentiated by role and past performance, as reported in the Colorado Sun. According to CO Senator Jeff Bridges, “This bill shifts the emphasis of teacher evaluation to supporting teacher development.”

Supporting teacher development is an urgent need. A 2019 report from the Economic Policy Institute found that “the relationships between teachers and their administrators are often negative,” and that more than half of teachers feel unsupported in their work. In order to meet pressing teacher needs, now is the opportunity to imagine what performance evaluation can be.

In this article, we identify four core questions that can help you evolve your evaluation system from a punitive process to a feedback loop between teachers and principals:

The answers to these four questions can help you uncover strategies for empowering educator growth through performance assessment. But determining what a “yes” looks like can be tricky in practice. Here are concrete, practical indicators that your evaluation system is functioning on a growth-based model:

Is it transparent?

Teachers seek clarity on how decisions are made. Evaluation systems should aid in administrators’ ability to communicate to teachers when and how they will be evaluated, as well as how evaluation results will be used. Your evaluation steps can include clarifying information such as number of classroom visits in a given school year and dates for collaborative meetings with your administrator.

Teacher input in system design positively impacts their practice. Teacher engagement throughout the evaluation design and development process is more likely to lead to improved teaching quality and increased student learning (Minnici, 2014). Successful systems give teachers ownership and input for their own goals.

The system includes clear metrics. Observation instruments should set clear expectations, with a defined set of teaching competencies and specific examples of performance levels for each (Kane & Staiger, 2012).

Is it multidimensional?

Look at teachers holistically. Use a multidimensional approach to rate teachers who struggle in certain areas of practice more accurately; for example, administrators should conduct several walkthroughs throughout the year at different times of day and different segments of a teacher’s lesson to get the full picture of a teacher’s instructional practice.

Search for and highlight teachers’ strengths, rather than weaknesses. Rather than focusing on a single summative performance rating, a wide set of sample data allows evaluators to answer “How is a teacher effective?” rather than “How effective is a teacher?”
(Kraft & Gilmour, 2017).

Account for years of experience. Consider that newer teachers will need more classroom visits than seasoned teachers, and may find the support of evaluation feedback beneficial to their growth (Jiang et al. 2015; Slotnik et al. 2014; Tuytens and Devos 2011).

In a recent webinar, the Cypress-Fairbanks school district shared their three-prong approach to mentorship programming, which includes newer teachers receiving one-on-one guidance and support from experienced teachers. Based on survey data, they found that mentees with more experience find mentorship less effective, while those with less experience find it more effective.

Is teacher growth factored in?

Get the full picture with multiple walkthroughs. Kane and Staiger suggest that a teacher should be observed on multiple lessons and by multiple observers in order to reduce the influence of an atypical lesson and unusual observer judgment (2012).

Teachers’ summative scores should account for progress as well as overall performance. Walkthroughs that occur later in the school year should be weighted more heavily than beginning-of-the-year walkthroughs.

Allow teachers time to apply feedback. Your system should allow evaluators to easily communicate the areas in which teachers may need further professional development. Sharing this feedback early and often allows teachers to improve before their next walkthrough.

Is it simple?

Eliminate manual processes and automate your scoring. Instead of performing calculations by hand or pulling data into a spreadsheet, utilize an evaluation tool that does the work for you. Then, promote transparency in your process by sharing scores with your teachers right away.

Align professional development and coaching support with your evaluation system. By aligning professional learning to your evaluation framework, teachers will be able to take ownership of their own growth. Over time, you can note the impact of various supports by tracking teacher growth over time in your evaluation system.

Conclusion

It may not be realistic to overhaul your entire evaluation system, but small, meaningful changes over time can help evaluators and staff feel more comfortable with the process and help them view evaluations as a useful tool to aid their growth trajectory. Asking the right questions can help identify where those improvements can be made.

Want to see how KickUp can support you in improving your evaluations? Schedule a demo with our team

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