The increasing flexibility enjoyed by academies and other schools over teachers’ pay and changes in the appraisal regulations in 2012 give schools in England a real opportunity to shape teacher evaluation and development to improve standards and reduce in-school variations between subjects and between pupils of different backgrounds.
This report is written by Richard Murphy.
The OECD (2009) concluded that “the effective monitoring and evaluation of teaching is central to the continuous improvement of the effectiveness of teaching in a school”. Yet how this is achieved has still to be resolved. There is growing evidence from the United States and this country showing that there is a significant correlation between teacher evaluations and exam results. However, the evidence also suggests that schools should rely on a combination of approaches to gain a fuller picture of teacher effectiveness, and that teachers should be assessed on their cumulative performance over several years rather than on the data from a single year.
What is also clear is that effective evaluation is good for pupils and good for teachers. It can improve the quality of teaching, provided it is accompanied by good feedback, and it can lead to better results for pupils and improved learning.
It is important that schools use a clear approach to appraisal that is well understood by every teacher, and that they provide effective training for any staff members involved in evaluation. Using distinct appraisal and developmental systems with common standards will encourage honest feedback which is key to development. There can be value in using external expertise both to develop an effective approach and to benchmark standards.
England’s decentralised evaluation system allows for discretion when making decisions based on these measures. A centralised decision-making process that is prescriptive will undoubtedly lead to cases of misclassification, given the distractions associated with these measures. Teacher evaluation metrics are not absolute and therefore they should only be used as indicators of performance. We must rely on the expertise of experienced school leaders to make informed decisions when appraising a teacher, taking all factors into account including those that impact on achievement and the strengths of each measure.
This decentralisation also means activity of teachers outside the classroom can be considered. Schools are complex working environments and a teacher’s contribution to effective management and extra-curricular activities is also important.
Ways to evaluate teacher effectiveness
The three most common ways to evaluate teacher effectiveness are gains in test scores, classroom observations and pupil surveys. Each method has weaknesses, but each has its place within a comprehensive teacher evaluation system.
Gains in test scores for teacher performance:Gains in pupil test scores are the best available metric to measure teacher performance. Improvements in student attainment may be an imperfect measure, but they are a good starting point. The main advantage of this measure is its objectivity; despite its shortcomings, it is by far the most reliable of the three measures in predicting a teacher’s future performance. Test and exam results cannot reliably be used to differentiate teachers who are just above and below average, but they can effectively be used to identify teachers who consistently perform well or badly. Schools in England are ideally placed to implement this as national tests and the Key Stage achievement levels provide common measures of attainment across subjects, schools and time.
Classroom observation for teacher development:Even when conducted by well-trained independent evaluators, classroom observations are the least predictive method of assessing teacher effectiveness. However, being observed does allow for an unrivalled opportunity to provide constructive feedback to teachers. To promote honesty in the feedback, developmental and evaluative observations should be carried out separately. Observations are common in schools in England today but, for them to be most effective, clear standards must be established. Again, schools in England have standardised measures of teacher performance that can be used to this effect.
Pupil surveys for corroborating measures: Whilst pupil surveys are open to accusations of misreporting by pupils, it has been found that they do contain information on the effectiveness of the teacher. Student surveys are not as predictive as test score gains, and nor do they provide as much effective feedback as peer observation, they do provide a middle ground, against which, gains in test scores and classroom observations can be calibrated.
No measurement is perfect; all measurements are vulnerable to irrelevant factors and could be driven by outliers. However, with knowledge of their shortcomings, we propose best practice. English schools already have many of the tools that are needed. It is for the schools to use them to implement this good practice.
Ten Tips for Successful Teacher Evaluation
- Schools should not rely on one single approach to teacher appraisal or evaluation. Instead they should consider using a mix of value added or progress measures, classroom observations and pupil surveys. Ultimately the mix chosen should be at the discretion of the headteacher with knowledge of the strengths of each.
- A clear system should be developed for teacher appraisal that is implemented fairly and consistently for all teachers.
- External advice should be used, where possible, to assess the quality and standards of a school’s system and to assure staff of its fairness and governors of its robustness.
- Staff sessions should be used to discuss the new system and help shape its effective implementation.
- Staff involved in evaluation should be properly trained, and school leaders should ensure that they are working within the agreed standards for the school.
- Good feedback is at the heart of successful evaluation, if it is to lead to improved teaching. School leaders should ensure that there is proper one-to-one discussion about the results of any evaluation.
- While appraisal and evaluation should focus on classroom activity, teachers’ contributions to extra-curricular activities, including sports, trips and clubs, should also be recognised.
- Value added or progress measures, rather than absolute test or exam results, should be the primary data used in evaluating performance, as they are the most objective and comparable assessment of a teacher’s contribution. It is important that robust baseline data is used.
- Developmental and evaluative classroom observations should be carried out separately, to promote honest feedback. It may make sense for peers to be involved in developmental observations but those for appraisal purposes being conducted by members of the school leadership team. There should be clear standards and protocols for observations, perhaps in a school handbook.
- Pupil surveys should be clearly structured, be age appropriate, and should complement other measures.