Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Teacher Evaluations and Camera Use

I read with some interest a proposal by some Wyoming lawmakers to place cameras in classrooms as a way to evaluate teachers. Sponsors of the Bill believe that it will make it easier to evaluate teachers in this fashion (a principal can just watch some tapes) and will lead to better teaching. Although I have some grave concerns about this proposal on privacy grounds, I have a greater concern because of what it says about how teachers are currently evaluated in Wyoming. According to the article, teachers in Wyoming are only observed by their principal or supervisor once a year. If this is true, then this is a big problem. However, the problem does not need to be fixed by expensive cameras in the classroom and “Big Brother” watching over a classroom. The solution is deceptively simple: have principals observe teachers more often. I will explain RASD’s evaluation plan which will help you understand a good teacher evaluation system. This system is based on the work of Charlotte Danielson.

In RASD, the teacher evaluation plan is called the “Differentiated Supervision Plan”. The goal of the supervision plan is give teachers the resources and professional development they need to improve student achievement. This is accomplished in the evaluation system by having three “tiers” of teachers. The first tier is called the “Differentiated Professional Development”. This tier is only for teachers who are excellent at their craft. The teacher and principal meet at the beginning of the year to set goals for the upcoming year. The teacher is the most important person in this scenario since they know what they need to work on to become better and their goals will reflect action steps and resources needed to reach the goals. The district’s job is to provide a culture where the teachers can access the resources to improve in areas they identify. In this tier, teachers are informally observed twice a year. There are three meetings (at the start of the year, the mid-point of the year, and the end of the year) to review and update progress on the goals. There are rubrics and self assessments used throughout this process and you can access them in the plan.

The next tier is called the “General” level. In this level teachers are observed twice a year and they are working toward goals that are set at the start of the year. This is a more traditional evaluation tool as it requires two observations and pre and post observation meetings between the principal and teacher. At RASD, every teacher “cycles” through this level at least once a year. This level is also meant for teachers that may have had difficulty in the top tier, or have improved from the bottom tier.

The last tier is called “Structured”. This tier has two parts to it. The first is meant for new teacher and the second is meant for “at-risk” teachers. I will not go into too much detail about this plan but I will highlight a few things. First, everyone in this tier is observed four times a year. The observations are meant to monitor progress toward goals set at the beginning of the school year with the principal. There are numerous pre and post observation meetings and use of rubrics all meant to closely monitor the teacher. The purpose of this tier is to make sure that new teachers have the ability to perform well and that at-risk teachers have the resources they need to improve. There is a very detailed procedure for at-risk teachers that involve committees and improvement plans crafted with the teacher and the principal. If these plans are not followed then the teacher is will not work for the school district. I cannot stress enough how important it is that the school district administration realize that it is the duty of the school district to help teachers improve. Once the district has provided the training and resources that the teacher has identified as necessary to improve, and they do not improve, then the duty now shifts to the teacher’s union to help the district weed these poor teachers out of the system.

As you can see the goal of the evaluation system at RASD is to help teachers reach goals and improve. Even our best teachers know that they can always improve in some area. Instead of putting cameras in the classroom, put principals in the classrooms, they should be there anyway.

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