Contributed by Casey Reason, Ph.D.
There has certainly been a great deal of controversy in recent months regarding the use of summative teacher evaluation systems as a means for inspiring school improvement. Many states have required districts to rethink their systems for teacher evaluation and to use approaches that include a slew of data points that previously were only mentioned in qualitative narratives within the evaluation document. Today, districts often require input from administrators, students, and even parents. Teacher performance may also be weighed by considering factors such as the performance of their students on standardized tests and other classroom assessments. While much has been written about the challenges of implementation and the potential for miscarriages of justice, it’s clear that there also can be some unique advantages if implemented with open communication and generous input on the process.
Below, you’ll find four advantages to be realized with implementation of a carefully constructed and weighted summative teacher evaluation system.
Separating formative & summative teacher evaluations
Summative and formative assessments have very different functions within the school community. Formative assessments allow administrators to identify growth opportunities and participate in the process of managing their own learning trajectory. Summative evaluations, on the other hand, give districts the opportunity to make a definitive judgment on the performance of the teacher. Seeing these evaluation systems differently is important for the growth of the profession and this latest movement towards a more thoughtful construction of formative assessments arguably helps lead the conversation in an informative way. Ultimately, improvement in the delivery of these evaluation archetypes is vital to teacher growth and improving learning opportunities for the students the school serves.
Opportunities for local choice
While there are some states with only a minimum localized choice, the best case scenario districts can establish new evaluation criteria and assign relative weights based on the needs and priorities of the local district.
To illustrate this possibility, a district may decide that teachers will be evaluated summatively in relationship to the following categories:
In looking at the five categories above, a local school district may have the choice to then establish how much weight should be assigned to each of these five categories. Are administrative ratings worth 20%? 40%? Should student ratings be worth 10%? Less? More?
The decision point regarding these questions may be very different from one district to the next. For example, a district with well-supported and sustained professional learning communities may find that their classroom assessments are indeed highly valid and reliable. The teachers themselves may feel that student performance of these locally-based assessments is arguably a more accurate measure of their performance than, for example, a newly adopted standardized test at the state level. Of course the opposite could be true wherein local classroom assessments have very little validity and reliability information and, as a result, the relative weight may need to be shifted away from this area of emphasis. In pursuit of a best practice implementation, it’s always wise to get a large amount of cross-sectional input in establishing criterion weight within an evaluation document. Without significant levels of teacher input, the likelihood of successful implementation is significantly reduced.
Greater relevance for the work of professional learning communities
Districts with established professional learning communities often have some unique advantages. The consistent meeting of advanced professional learning communities demonstrates the performance criteria and its relative weights established within the summative evaluation system. For example, if classroom assessments represented 20% of a teacher’s performance ratings, the presence of a highly evolved PLC would allow for an even more examination of those local assessments in terms of creating the necessary levels of validity and reliability to ensure accurate measurement. This type of summative assessment gives greater relevance to the time spent planning highly effective lessons leading towards goal attainment. This is a scenario wherein a new requirement such as weighted variables within a summative evaluation system could potentially lead to higher levels of engagement on local PLC teams; ultimately improving performance in the name of serving the students.
A greater focus on learning and the learner
The research on weight loss is clear. It has been proven that those who weigh themselves more often have more control of their weight. In terms of human behavior, we tend to monitor more closely that which is consistently measured. By establishing a more thoughtful evaluation criteria and means of placing weighted value where it belongs, there’s a much better chance that key local conversations, deep collaborative learning, and a greater degree of focus will be placed where it belongs—on the learning process and the learner. While we never lose sight of the fact that student learning is at the center of our endeavors, this type of weighted measure system may indeed help us to find our focus and discover unrealized levels of performance.
Clearly what’s important here is transparency and involvement. Providing for substantive teacher voice in the establishment of weighted criteria can help a school have a much more thoughtful approach to their work and inspire teachers to work together towards goal attainment. While mistakes will be made along the way, the work we do now may help us in the future to support the profession with the evaluation and assessment process.
Popham, J. W. (2013). Evaluating America’s teachers: Mission possible. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Casey Reason is a writer, researcher, and consultant who has worked with international thought leaders on breakthrough strategies designed to improve performance and overcome resistance to change. Dr. Reason’s approaches are founded on the emerging body of research in brain science and adult learning theory. Casey’s work as an instructional designer was prominently featured in a Forbes.com article in 2010 and he has been a featured speaker in conferences all over the world for the past ten years. Casey is a former high school principal and assistant superintendent. His book, Leading a Learning Organization: The Science of Working with Others was released in January of 2010 and was selected by Phi Delta Kappa International to be a 2010 PDK Book Club selection. Dr. Reason lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, with his twin sons, Brice and Kiah.