Wisdom Wednesday

Teacher Evaluation: What do parents really think?

How should we evaluate teachers?

This is a big question that has been all over the news lately. This article, from the New York Times, discusses parent reactions to the release of teacher performance rankings. As a parent and as a teacher (albeit one who is currently in graduate school, not teaching this year), I have mixed feelings on the matter, as do the parents discussed in the article linked above.

Do I think there needs to be an improved way to evaluate quality teaching? Absolutely. 

Do I think the recent teacher evaluation programs fill that void? No way.

For me, it comes down to what we define as “high quality teaching”. I want my children to be in a classroom where they are engaged, where they are learning in a way that will facilitate the retention of new knowledge over time, not simply long enough to regurgitate it on a test. I want them to feel safe in their school environment and to grow as people. I want them to gain confidence in social interactions and learn to assert their thoughts and opinions in an articulate way so they will be prepared to be citizens of a democratic society.

However, I have no idea how this can be fairly and easily evaluated. I am interested to see what other parents think about teacher evaluation and how it can be accomplished. Do parents really care about test scores first and foremost? Can an eighth grade teacher be fairly evaluated on the test score of a student who has had seven years of other teachers, for better or worse?

4 thoughts on “Wisdom Wednesday

  1. I completely agree and I think that makes a lot of sense. I guess I was just responding to my old-school parents’ resistance to pretty much any kind of evaluation. My mom was the union president for years and I went to that school. I remember once asking her how she could represent terrible teachers (we both knew they were awful and some were criminal), especially when they made good teachers like her look bad. She said she had to because it was union. I like to think that I’m generally pro-union but not when it protects incompetence. I guess my point is good luck trying to pass the measures you mention.

  2. See, I think quality principal evaluation, through a review of a portfolio of items (including perhaps current parent surveys, test scores which show growth that year from fall to spring, principal observations of teaching in the classroom, response to professional development activities, etc.) would be a fair evaluation tool. I think to accomplish this, however, we need principals with better training in how to effectively observe teachers and provide clear feedback and goals. What bothers me isn’t principal evaluation, but basing scores around standardized test scores (CMT scores) which may not even reflect that current year’s teacher. Suppose you teach in a really great district but you’re a terrible 6th grade teacher. The previous 5 years, the teachers worked really hard to make sure the kids had a great foundation of skills and they did really well on the 6th grade test. Should that subpar teacher be rewarded for the efforts of the prior teachers? In that way, it’s not analogous to the corporate world. If we could evaluate in this way, perhaps we could end the craziness of funding tied to test scores (which I think is a poor tool anyway, as clearly the lower scores need better funding, not less funding, to improve them) and look at what is going on in the classrooms on a day-to-day basis instead.

  3. As a mother, the daughter of two public school teachers and a professional trainer (albeit for adults in a corporate setting), I also have mixed feelings. My mom taught fourth grade for 40 years and over time, I saw her role evolve from that of a teacher to more of a parent. By the time she retired, they were providing lunch AND breakfast, vitamins, showers, immunizations, etc. — all things that should be the parent’s responsibility. Things are different now — sometimes you see several other adult “aides” in the room to accompany children with special needs so that they can be mainstreamed. I’m not necessarily opposed to these things, but it’s just funny that the role of a teacher has changed so much at the same time that the evaluation method has gone the other way. How can they possibly “teach to the test” when they have to deal with basic needs? And why should they be teaching to the test anyways? Because funding relies on it. I’ve also thought there should be a better way to evaluate teachers and seniority shouldn’t be the be-all end-all, but I’m not sure what the evaluation method should be, either. I know my parents were opposed to being evaluated by their principals, but that seems more like how it works in the corporate world, where you are evaluated by your boss (and sometimes peers or others are asked to give feedback as well). Of course you can get a crappy review because you have a crappy boss, but isn’t that a risk everywhere?

  4. This is a really thought provoking subject! Thanks for posting. I don’t have an answer though. I want the same for my kids that you’ve outlined wanting for yours, and I don’t know how you assess that. I don’t like standardized tests for children. I think the idea is a bit archaic especially since we know so much more now that all kids process, take in and put out, information differently. I know for certain that Max knows the sounds of letters and one to one correspondence but I’m not confident that that would be evident on a pencil and paper test. I don’t think it’s fair to assess the teachers based on student performance. Can’t wait to see the other comments on this post.

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