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Friday, August 05, 2016

Educator Evaluation System: Room for Responsible Risk?

I spent some time reading our teachers' contract today. It is a wordy document ready for some updates since there's been substantial change in education in the past years.

As a risk taker, I worry about some of the language and process that hinders responsible risk taking. In a sense, teachers that take risks put themselves in a position where they are likely to not gain exemplary status since risk involves failure, and failure does not meet the criteria set, criteria that, according to state contract language, could earn awards:

C) Educators with PTS whose summative performance rating is exemplary and, after 2013-

14 whose impact on student learning is rated moderate or high, shall be recognized and rewarded with leadership roles, promotions, additional compensation, public commendation or other acknowledgement as determined by the district through collective bargaining where applicable.

Is it right that a teacher has to choose between taking risks and working to develop his/her craft in modern age ways and getting exemplary on their performance rating? Of course there will be environments where risk is embraced and environments where risk is not embraced. And there will be a continuum on how teacher work, risk taking, and impact is viewed. Over the weekend an educator told me a story about a school system where one attribute was highly rated by one principal and lowly rated by another. There will be differences of perception, observation, and opinion. 

Also in the tight confines of the school environment, one that includes lots of varying relationships, can one evaluator do a fair job evaluating a large number of educators and deciding between who gets what rating? And, in some places, it's been told that evaluators can only choose a few for exemplary--in those places, they want a bell curve of performance. Of course, every so often there will be an educator who has wrongly chosen the profession and demonstrates little ability to do the job thus getting a low rating. I believe that this probably doesn't occur that often. Teaching is a learning profession and it's a profession where everyone can always get better. 

Now you might read this and think that it comes from sour grapes--you're right, I received a proficient rating, not exemplary. In fact in 3/4 of the categories, I did receive exemplary, but in one--one that involves greater risk and speaking up, I received proficient which resulted in an overall proficient rating. I could definitely see some good critique in my evaluation particularly in the area where I received proficient. I remember getting very upset a few times when plans I made for new programming went awry--that's not exemplary. I'll heed words of good goal setting and continue moving forward, but I also felt a bit of "I'm not superwoman," and just how hard to I have to work. (I know, I know work smarter, not harder!) Plus, I wonder about the decision making that goes into rating. Who is the exemplary educator in my midst, and what does he/she do to earn that rating? I suspect, from the comments I got, it's an educator who is much quieter than me, and one whose job lends itself to the kind of daily performance that's highly helpful and noticeable to evaluators.  I also suspect that subjectivity gets in the way too--if the person you're evaluating matches your world view, ideas of excellence, and needs as an evaluator, that person will likely score higher than someone who pushes the agenda, gets upset now and then, creates some questioning, and has a different world view.

It must not be easy to be the evaluator either. As the evaluator you've got administration on one side and educators on the other. You stand in the middle knowing that it's unlikely you'll please all.

So as I go forward, I'll continue to speak up, write, and think about how we can make education better for all students. I enjoy the work and like to learn how to do the job well. I know lots of areas in which I can improve and will aim my work in that direction. As for evaluations, I'll heed the critique that matters and recognize that politics plays a role too. Teachers don't do their work to get rich or rewarded, but instead we do our work to teach well, and I'll continue down that path.

Now as I read and reread contract language related to evaluations, I want to think deeply about fairness, efficiency, how the evaluation system serves educators well, and how it impedes and/or contributes to the good work possible. I'm hoping we can make it simpler so that it does its job of helping educators reach for better in areas that matter, but doesn't take so much time and effort that teachers and evaluators get lost or frustrated in the process missing out on important time they could be spending teaching children well.

I'm open to your thoughts and suggestions in this regard. There's much to learn, assuage, and improve upon with the evaluation system now that we're approaching a time when the system is fully introduced and ready for its next iteration. Onward.