A Draft Model for Teacher Evaluation

A Summary of a Model from the Teacher Evaluation Working Group
By Ann Hobbie, parent representative to the TEWG
Winter, 2011-Winter, 2013

How can we help ensure our students have the best possible teachers?  How should teacher performance be evaluated?  These are very reasonable and compelling questions parents think about, especially as a new school year begins.  I am such a parent, having long been involved in my children’s schools and having been a public school teacher for eight years earlier in my career.

In January of 2012, I began serving as one of two parent representatives on a 35 member working group, commissioned by Governor Dayton to help create a default plan for evaluating Minnesota’s teachers.  In spring of 2011, Minnesota Statute 2010 was established to address how and when teachers in Minnesota should be evaluated.  This law says, among other things, that teachers will be evaluated annually, and that 35 percent of this evaluation will come from how much progress their students make on standardized tests each year.  The law also says that teachers will be observed by a principal or trained evaluator at least once every three years, and that additionally they may be assessed by trained observers, who can be peers, in the years when that formal (summative) review is not scheduled.  Further, the law says that a measure of how engaged and connected students are will be part of this evaluation tool, considered longitudinally.  Districts were allowed to create their own evaluation systems, as long as they comply with the statute, but if they don’t create one, they will use the state’s.  It’s estimated that about forty percent of Minnesota’s districts will end up using this default model that our working group is developing.  In December of 2012, after a year of hard work, we recommended a draft of the model to Commissioner Cassellius, which she now will edit and approve.

The task force included teachers, union stewards, principals, superintendents, business representatives, research specialists, college professors of Education, and MDE staff members, with input from lawmakers involved in writing this statute.   I came into the committee with many questions and concerns about what would be developed, but was very heartened that most people in the room believe that most of our teachers want to do well by their students and grow in their work, and that if we expect them to do so, we must support them in the process.

The model for teacher evaluation is called The Collaboration, Growth, and Evaluation Model (see the model in greater detail).  It was the group’s intention that a teacher growth and evaluation system would embed support and professional learning; include multiple measures of practice and effectiveness; be transparent, sustainable, consistent, and sufficiently flexible; and result in increased student learning and success.  It is my personal hope, and I believe the intent of this group, that this vision sets Minnesota apart from most other states in terms of fairness and implementation for teachers.  Over the next year, this model will be piloted in districts across Minnesota, and whether or not we achieved this vision will be apparent.   Revisions to the model most certainly will have to be made after principals and evaluators use it.  In the end, the model reflects a great deal of compromise among the various representatives who contributed, and there are components of it that most of us like better than others.

All aspects of the model were based on the recommendations of subcommittees that looked long and hard at research on teacher evaluation.  The model has three overall areas for assessment.  The first component is based on observations of a teacher’s practice, done by trained observers including the principal and using a rubric of Standards for Teacher Practice.  This observation of practice component comprises 45% of a teacher’s evaluation.  Second, there is on a teacher’s contribution to student engagement.  This piece comprises 20% of the evaluation – 15% from a valid student feedback instrument (provided one can be created or purchased) and 5% from observations and other inputs such as a teacher portfolio, observations and teacher self-reflection.  The third component, mandated by statute at 35%, is based on student learning and achievement.

Component One:  Teacher Practice

The area of Teacher Practice includes planning, instruction, environment and professionalism.  The Performance Standards for Teacher Practice is a document that serves as a rubric for the types and degrees of skill involved in this area.   To gather information in this area, teachers and evaluators will plan multiple points of contact (including observations and one-on-one meetings) with a summative evaluator and trained peer reviewer, for which they will receive feedback.  The visits will focus on the teacher’s Individual Growth and Development Plan.  Every third year these visits must be done with a Summative Evaluator, which will often (but not always) be a teacher’s principal.  There will be a minimum of five points of contact each year.   Practice will also be evaluated with a self-assessment and peer review, and can, if the teacher so chooses, include a portfolio of their work.  The summative evaluator will give the teacher a rating based on all evidence from the three years of observation.

Component Two:  Student Engagement

Student engagement is an organizing framework for examining a student’s commitment to and involvement in learning, which includes academic, behavioral, cognitive and affective dimensions.  It is influenced by the context of family, peers, community, and school.   Within the classroom, a teacher can influence student engagement through relationships with students and the relevance and rigor of instruction.  Two groups of evidence – a student engagement survey and other evidence of student engagement – make up this component.   The assigned Summative Evaluator will use longitudinal data from the survey and other evidence, with survey results determining 15% and other measures of engagement determining 5%.   I served on this subcommittee and pushed for the primacy of using student feedback.  The research we read showed student feedback surveys, when well developed and validated, correlated with other measures of teacher effectiveness as predictors of student achievement.  Because student engagement components include aspects of the student’s experience that can’t be observed (affective and cognitive components), asking the student is the only direct, non-inferential way to get feedback.  Students spend more time with their teachers than anyone else, so this also makes sense.  Moreover, the kinds of feedback teachers can get through the survey is perhaps the most specific to their teaching.  The pilot period will help us understand the scope, within grade levels and student subgroups, of the survey’s usefulness to teachers, and adjustments may need to be made.  Nonetheless, it is direct, comprehensive, easy to analyze and formative feedback.  Read A Case for Student Feedback for more information on why and how student surveys can be used.

Component Three:  Student Learning and Achievement

Student learning is at the heart of schooling children, and good teachers are constantly assessing student learning against standards, in order to know where a student is and how he or she needs to modify and intervene when needed.  The state statue for teacher evaluation requires that 35% of a teacher’s evaluation be based on student achievement data, so the student learning and achievement component is 35% of the final summative performance rating for a teacher. Statute also requires that an agreed-upon value-added model be used in grade levels and subject areas where that data is available. (A value-added model is one that compares a student against him or herself over time.) In the grade levels and subject areas where value-added data is not available, districts must use state or local measure of student growth.

Many classrooms in Minnesota do not have state tests available for their subject areas, e.g. foreign languages, physical education, music, specific sciences, etc. Where value-added data are not available, this model has teachers create learning goals for each student that have measurable, long-term student academic growth targets. These goals demonstrate a teacher’s impact on student learning within a given interval of instruction based upon baseline data gathered at the beginning of the course or school year. The student learning goal process formalizes what an effective teacher already does.

All teachers will also have a shared performance goal set by the school leadership team and principal. This goal measures the student outcomes of the entire building or program.  An individual teacher’s impact on school-wide performance is difficult to assess but the inclusion of a shared performance goal addresses the variety of teaching assignments by using a measure for which schools or groups of teachers share responsibility. Greater collaboration is expected as teachers work together to improve school-wide results.

Three-Year Professional Review Cycle

In the Collaboration, Growth, and Evaluation Model a teacher engages in a continuous three-year professional review cycle as shown in Figure 3. Each year of the three-year cycle has defined roles, ongoing activities, and a continuous review of student impact data. There is an ongoing series of annual events in which a teacher engages. Self-assessment and peer review at the end of each year inform Individual Growth and Development Plan revisions in years one and two and connect each year to the previous year in the three-year cycle. At the end of the three-year cycle, the assigned summative evaluator conducts a summative evaluation and determines a final summative performance rating. The summative evaluation informs a new Individual Growth and Development Plan for the next three-year cycle.

Some Final (and Editorial) Thoughts

From an editorial point of view as a participant, I’d like to offer a few comments for consideration.  First, this model is the default model.  Your school district may well have developed their own, based on agreement between the teachers’ union and the school board.  Individual district plans still have to comply with the same law (Minnesota Statute 122 A.40 and 122 A.41).  Be sure to ask your districts what yours looks likes.  They too will be piloting their models to see what works and make adjustments.

A second consideration for all of us as parents is this:  We all want our kids to have the very best teachers.  From time to time, our students will have a really lousy teacher whose practice needs and deserves the attention of administration to help rectify or move out of the field.  But the majority of the teachers our children will have, like most of our work colleagues, will be fair, good or very good.  A few will be outstanding.  These teachers don’t deserve to be vilified or fired.  They deserve to be professionally supported in an effort to continually grow and improve, just like any other profession.  This is what teachers want.  The degree to which this model is able to serve that growth and improvement remains to be seen.

Lastly, a model like this one needs financial support in order to be successful.  Remember, the Teacher Evaluation Work Group set out to create a model that would embed support and professional learning; include multiple measures of practice and effectiveness; be transparent, sustainable, consistent, and sufficiently flexible; and result in increased student learning and success.  This vision will demand time.  Coaching from peers and administrators, time to train for ever-greater demands, time to collaborate with colleagues, time to develop goals for and plan for myriad students, time to reflect on student feedback all take teachers’ and principals’ time.  Time is ultimately money, and putting more and more structures on top of the same financial foundation will not make a stronger a house.

I am confident that some good things for our students will come out of this model for teacher evaluation, as it will from other models being developed around the state.  I am also quite sure that there will be struggles and controversies in the process, with aspects of all models that need changing and improving along the way.