18 January 2013

Measures of Effective Teaching

The Measures of Effective Teaching Project (MET) released its final reports last week. It got considerable press coverage as the study strives to inform teacher evaluation programs, a subject of considerable controversy.

Most of the stories, like this one from Reuters, focus on the the study's finding that teacher performance can indeed be predicted by performance measures. The best evaluations involve a weighted average of student test scores, teacher observations and student evaluations. Any one of these by itself is a much less accurate predictor.

There are nuances to this that can be gleaned from the project's Policy and Practitioner Brief:

  • The different measures (student testing, teacher observation and student evaluation) have some overlap but mostly they measure different aspects of the teacher's skills.
  • Different weightings are better predictors of different outcomes. Unsurprisingly, placing greater weight on test results is a better predictor of future student test results. However, equal weighting models or those that emphasize teacher observations are more reliable year over year.
  • Effective teacher observations are more than a periodic visit from the principal. Evaluations require a consistent framework and procedure. The MET project used the Danielson Framework for Teaching as a rubric. The reliability of teacher observations is greatly improved by having at least two evaluators.
  • When done properly, student evaluations are very reliable and an important component of teacher evaluation. As with observations, the key is to ask the right questions. The MET project used the Tripod Student Survey.
  • The "value added" theory is supported. When student scores are compared with the previous year's performance (a value added score) the result is a more consistent predictor of future teacher performance than just the most recent year's scores.
One problem with exclusively using standardized tests to evaluate teachers or schools is that it's a blunt instrument. These tests offer a measure of performance but they offer limited guidance to a teacher or school on how they can improve. Sure, we can fire ineffective teachers and close ineffective schools. But using natural selection to improve schools is slow and costly not to mention cruel. Basically you're just hoping for those teachers and schools that randomly find the right formula for success.

Among the advantages of teacher observations and student evaluations are that they supply rich feedback to teachers to help them improve their practice. Another MET project report, Feedback for Better Teaching, offers guidelines for using feedback. They placed cameras in classrooms and observers codified the techniques used by the teachers. The same video recordings were used by the teachers themselves to observe their own performance – usually with an instructional coach. Processes like these can continuously improve teacher skills and effectiveness.

I've written before about how immediate feedback can help the student learn more effectively. In that context, it's no surprise that feedback to teachers helps them to be more effective. Moreover, it supports the passion that got them into teaching in the first place.

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