NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Prioritizing Teaching Quality in a New System of Teacher Evaluation

November 17, 2011

Many efforts to improve America's imperiled education system through improving teacher quality have gone awry.  For example, some have placed too much attention on metrics that are largely out of the teacher's control, such as test scores and overall student performance.  Simultaneously, others have attempted to be more comprehensive by assessing the teacher's techniques, yet many of the measures used in these observational studies are static and poorly related to teacher skill.  For these reasons, a new system of teacher evaluation ought to be implemented that incorporates well-thought-out stipulations, say researchers Heather Hill and Corinne Herlihy. 

First, quality of teaching must be prioritized over teacher quality.

  • Attempts to measure teacher quality have a tendency to slip into the trap of focusing exclusively on test scores, which are subject to numerous exogenous factors that are outside of the teacher's influence.
  • Therefore, comprehensive teacher evaluation will require direct observation and recognition of teacher skills.

Second, additional metrics should be included in studies of quality of teaching that take place outside of the classroom.  Including factors such as contributions to the school's sense of community and engagement with parents can offer a more accurate picture of a teacher's net impact on the entire learning environment.

Third, observational instruments that will effectively allow administrators to assess teachers should be selected carefully with well-defined structures.  Because the type of observation can greatly affect the outcomes of assessments, rules such as the frequency of observation and the role of the observer should be planned out ahead of time.  Furthermore, this is an area in which local customization is crucial, as some learning environments have circumstances that differ significantly from others.

And fourth, teachers must also be able to benefit from such a system, which can be accomplished in several ways.

  • Post-action review of teaching sessions can point out mistakes and applaud successes.
  • Furthermore, teachers who are seen to be very productive and highly skilled can mentor fellow teachers in order to spread good teaching practices.
  • In this way, the system is not simply a means of assessing teachers, but also works to improve them.

Source: Heather Hill and Corinne Herlihy, "Prioritizing Teaching Quality in a New System of Teacher Evaluation," American Enterprise Institute, November 2011.

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