THIS IS THE FIRST IN A SERIES OF BLOGS ON INSTRUCTIONAL LEADERSHIP, TEACHER EVALUATION, TEACHER TRAINING, AND PROFESSIONAL LEARNING MODELS.
Forces as polarized as research evidence documenting large differences in performance between individual teachers and incentives from the federal government have driven a national conversation on teacher evaluation. I am of the opinion that the present focus on improving individual teachers’ effectiveness is spot on. Furthermore, I believe that evaluation programs can drive significant change, despite evidence that suggests that possibility remains debatable. I have long argued that under-qualified administrators conducting evaluations hinder improvements. I have also argued for a shared leadership model because not only does the effectiveness of principals vary greatly, but principals come and go.
In California there is no state-mandated teacher evaluation program. There isn’t even a state model. School districts are on their own. Some people are under the impression the Stull Act (1976) is California’s teacher evaluation program. However, it simply requires districts have an evaluation program. It’s not prescriptive. The Stull Act stipulates that:
(a) The governing board of each school district shall establish standards of expected pupil achievement at each grade level in each area of study.
(b) The governing board of each school district shall evaluate and assess certificated employee performance as it reasonably relates to:
The progress of pupils toward the standards established pursuant to subdivision (a) and, if applicable, the state adopted academic content standards as measured by state adopted criterion referenced assessments.
The instructional techniques and strategies used by the employee.
The employee’s adherence to curricular objectives.
The establishment and maintenance of a suitable learning environment, within the scope of the employee’s responsibilities.
Research evidence on whether and how teacher evaluation promotes teaching effectiveness is scarce. Where there is evidence of an evaluation process that promotes teacher effectiveness, it is usually accompanied by strong instructional leadership at the site level.
A principal who communicates a clear vision for the school and sets high standards for student learning increases the likelihood that teacher effectiveness improves. The Visible Learning research (Hattie, 2015) identified strong instructional leaders as those who create a culture of collaboration where everyone in the school works together to know and evaluate their impact (including the leader). This focus on impact highlights the capacity of leaders and teachers to design effective programs, implement them with quality, and determine the magnitude of their outcome on student learning.
When Hattie’s work revealed that the variability in student outcomes was the consequence of the variability in teacher effectiveness, it became clear that many teachers weren’t making the connection between student achievement and their own practices.
A strong instructional leader creates a climate that values the evaluation of teacher effectiveness and considers it a core professional responsibility. Student learning outcomes improve when leaders believe their major role is to evaluate teacher effectiveness.
School leaders are learning leaders. Their success revolves around their effectiveness leading the discussion about the nature and quality of evidence and its impact on changing behaviors. In the Continuous School Improvement model, the nature and quality of evidence lies at the intersection of demographic, achievement, school processes, and perception data. If the evidence suggests practices, programs, and initiatives had above-average impacts on student learning, then continuing to fund them is justified. If they don’t, well, stop doing them!