Earlier this year, Congress reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, dubbing it the Every Student Succeeds Act.

It replaced the former funding law called No Child Left Behind. The key difference is the reverting of educational power to control funding back to the individual states after the old law worked to unify the country under one evaluative system.

Over this summer, a team assembled by Gov. David Ige is working to interpret how Hawaii will implement the new law. One of the things that is being addressed is how to change teacher evaluations.

Evaluations that work well in the business world may not work in education. 

Every job involves some form of evaluation. During college, I worked in a warehouse for a large internet company. We unpackaged, sorted and repackaged product in the early hours of the morning, stopping every hour on the hour for a stretch break. Every two weeks, the manager would post a spreadsheet of how many units we had processed.

It was easy to see that I was not very good.

That workplace had a very straightforward way to evaluate my performance: There was a product that was being tracked into hard data. I could see that I was not unpackaging as many units as the other employees.

This kind of evaluation works well in the business world, but education is not a traditional business model, although it has often been treated as such.

Under No Child Left Behind, all school systems had to develop a method for evaluating teachers that met federal guidelines. The lawmakers’ logic was to pinpoint where things were broken and fix or replace them. States were required to create evaluations that utilized data to measure how well teachers were performing. In Hawaii, this was called the Educator Effectiveness System. The nitty-gritty details can be found in the system manual.

EES Manual teacher evaluations

Most of the process was based on the educational philosophy of Charlotte Danielson, who has since denounced the use of her framework for evaluative purposes.

The process changed year to year based on feedback from teachers and administrators and there is some fluctuation based on a teacher’s experience and previous rating. It was also reworked after Hawaii qualified for the Race to the Top grant.

Here is what I had to do last year, which is considered the basic evaluation process.

The first piece of the evaluation I did was a new addition, the Individual Professional Development Plan. This was a plan for how I was going to grow professionally over the year that was data-driven. Since this was the pilot year, it would not count toward our final rating. Teachers were to choose from one aspect of the Danielson framework and determine a method of gathering data to demonstrate growth. This was presented to us the week before school started with our yearly Educator Effectiveness System briefing.

The next aspect of the evaluation I worked on was classroom observations. Over the course of the year, I had to have my assigned administrator attend one of my class periods to observe my teaching once a semester. The whole process consisted of a pre-conference to discuss what I expected to happen; the observation, where the administrator was tasked with taking detailed notes; and a post-conference where the notes were reviewed and compared to the Danielson rubric. Again, the focus was on the evidence.

During the second semester, I completed my Student Learning Objective project, a data-gathering venture to prove my students are learning. Teachers have the option to complete the project over the course of a semester or a year. The final rating is not based on student success, but on how accurately teachers can judge their students.

Using three data points (past assessments), at the beginning of the cycle, teachers create predictions on how well students will perform on specific standards. The data is gathered through class assignments and assessments and the teacher displays where their students are at the end of the cycle. The teacher’s score is not based on how many students met or exceeded the standard, but on how accurate the initial prediction was. I can understand why this is better than just looking at how many students pass a teacher’s class, but it was still not a very sound acumen.

At the end of the year, I had to complete the Core Professionalism section of the evaluation. To prove that I was being professional, I was asked to upload three to five pieces of evidence that align to the Danielson framework. Also included in this section is feedback from an annual survey given to students where they rate their teacher — not the results themselves but our reflection on them. As a high school teacher, I do not take too much issue with asking my students to rate me, mood swings aside, but I would not hold the same opinion if I taught third graders.

Finally, the last aspect of the rating is based on the Hawaii Growth Model.

This rating involves student test scores on the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Even though I teach a non-tested subject to non-tested students, I was rated based on the school’s performance. Fortunately, this was scrapped at the end of the school year.

All of this process is facilitated by a school administrator. Different administrators evaluate differently. I have worked with administrators who have each interpreted the Danielson framework in their own way. Some have no prior educational experience.

The final rating is determined using this graph:

I do not envy the Every Student Succeeds Act task force designing the new evaluation system. There has to be a way to eject bad teachers. But therein lies the fundamental philosophical question: What is a bad teacher?

This was a question that is easy to answer looking in on educators. I thought I knew the answer when I first entered the classroom, but my opinions have changed over time.

I have worked alongside teachers whose style and methods are totally different than mine. I shudder as I listen to them recount classroom procedures and assignments that remind me of everything that I hated about school. There have even been times when I openly challenged their teaching philosophies. But I have seen students thrive in their classes, students that I sometimes have trouble reaching. Are they bad teachers?

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