Teacher Evaluation

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Deciphering the “Guilty” Saga of Teacher Evaluation


In today’s world of extreme specialization, educational systems are increasingly being held to account with regard to the efficiency of their processes and the standard of their outcomes. Another characteristic of the current international educational context is the idea that teachers should be accountable to the wider society for the quality of education they provide. At this point, the concept of teacher evaluation comes to the forefront since it can be used as a powerful tool to respond to the aforementioned socio-economic challenges.

by Dimitris Nikolaidis, B.A. in English Language and Literature

 

The Concept of Teacher Evaluation


Meaningful teacher evaluation involves an accurate appraisal of the effectiveness of teaching, its strengths and areas for development, followed by feedback and opportunities for professional development. The substantial significance of teacher evaluation relies on the fact that without capable, high quality teachers, no educational reform can possibly succeed. Being the most significant resource of schools, teachers play a catalytic role in raising educational standards. Regardless of how well an educational reform is designed, it is only as effective as the people who implement it.

Nevertheless, teacher evaluation issues cannot be studied in isolation since societal, school-system and school-level factors can influence decisively the design of evaluation systems. Without an adequate understanding of these factors, teacher evaluation policies risk failure in practice. For this reason, teacher evaluation should not be considered an end in itself. As the field of education has moved towards a stronger focus on variables affecting educational outcomes, enhancing teacher performance is perhaps the policy direction most likely to lead to substantial gains in student learning.

Purposes of Teacher Evaluation


Although teacher evaluation could possibly serve a number of objectives, the two major purposes of evaluation are accountability and professional improvement. On the one hand, the accountability purpose reflects the need for determining teachers’ competence in order to guarantee that the educational work delivered is effective and cognitively stimulating. The accountability orientation associates teachers’ performance to a range of consequences for their future career. The specific function is achieved by setting incentives for teachers to develop at their full potential. Nevertheless, it may include the possibility of sanctions in cases of underperformance or malpractice.

On the other hand, the improvement purpose reflects the need for teachers’ professional growth. The development orientation seeks to improve teachers’ practices by identifying potential strengths and weaknesses of their educational work. It usually involves simple evaluation instruments, such as self-evaluation forms, classroom observation and structured interviews within a non-threatening evaluation context. The improvement function is achieved by monitoring teachers’ progress through the provision of purposeful feedback and the participation to activities of continuing professional development.

Combining both the accountability and improvement function within a single teacher evaluation system may raise certain challenges. Emphasis on accountability may occasionally render teachers vulnerable to the fear of failure or the loss of self-esteem. When evaluation is oriented towards accountability, teachers may feel reluctant to reveal weak aspects of their performance and thus, the improvement function could be jeopardized. Stressfulness and counter-productivity are also identified as unintended side-effects of the accountability function of evaluation; the intention for measurable outcomes limits teachers’ capacity for maneuvering. As a result, overemphasis is placed upon the smooth running of external audit rather than the improvement of teachers’ performance in the long term. In this way, teacher evaluation may become ritualized and meaningless in terms of professional development.

On the contrary, when evaluation is oriented towards improvement, teachers are more likely to adopt a constructive attitude towards accountability purposes and to utilize more productively the evaluation feedback. Nevertheless, exclusive focus on teacher development may create a latent suspicion of subjectivity which will, in turn, lead to the dismissal of the evaluation results as invalid and unreliable. Concerning accountability, the evaluation findings are usually publicly available to both government and community stakeholders, thereby ensuring the transparency and legitimization of the evaluation procedure. In the case of teacher improvement, however, the evaluation outcomes may not necessarily be published to the wider community but rather kept confidential in terms of “contrived collegiality”. For this reason, a properly designed teacher evaluation system should support a balanced relationship between these two functions by removing both organizational barriers (e.g. incompatibility of institutional and individual needs) and personal barriers (e.g. stress, fear of failure etc).

Conclusion


To sum up, for multiple purposes in teacher evaluation to be feasible, a rational link must exist between the two aforementioned evaluation functions. In fact, teacher improvement and accountability purposes are not to be regarded as mutually exclusive but rather subordinate and complementary to each other. When these two functions are inextricably intertwined, the evaluation process could productively serve not only the needs of individual teachers but also the needs of the wider school community. •

References
Duke, D., L. (1995). Teacher Evaluation Policy: from Accountability to Professional Development. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Hargreaves, D. (1997) “School culture, school effectiveness and school improvement”. In A. Harris, N. Bennett and M. Preedy (eds) Organizational Effectiveness and Improvement in Education. Buckingham: Open University Press.
Nevo, D. (2002). “Dialogue evaluation: combining internal and external evaluation”. In D. Nevo (Ed.), School-based evaluation: An International Perspective. Oxford: Elsevier Science Ltd.
Scriven, M. (1991). Evaluation Thesaurus (4th ed.). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Stronge, J. H. (1995). “Balancing individual and institutional goals in educational personnel evaluation: A conceptual framework”. Studies in Educational Evaluation, Vol. 21, pp. 131-151.
Stronge, J.H. (2002). Qualities of effective teachers. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Vanhoof, J. and Van Petegem, P. (2007) “How to match internal and external evaluation? Conceptual reflections from a Flemish perspective”. Studies in Educational Evaluation, Vol. 33, Iss. 2, pp. 101-119.

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