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November 7, 2013

CEPEDA: Teacher evaluation reforms surprising

Tonawanda News — Considering how reluctant our public education system is to change, the swiftness with which reform has spread in teacher evaluations is nothing short of breathtaking.

According to the National Council on Teacher Quality’s “State of the States 2013” report, 35 states and the District of Columbia now require that student achievement be a significant or the most significant factor in teacher evaluations.

Additionally, 44 states and D.C. require classroom observations to be incorporated into teacher evaluations and 19 states and the federal district specifically require policies to ensure that teacher evaluation results are used to inform and shape professional development for all instructors.

This is mind-blowing. I completed my last graduate-level education course in 2009 and the only evaluations anyone in my teacher-prep program cared about were those necessary for graduation and employment, along with the pre-tenure evaluations.

Once that last evaluation was made, the pressure was off because it was understood that when tenure was won, it would be practically impossible to be removed from the classroom.

Thankfully, more school systems are instituting rigorous evaluations to understand how both students and teachers are performing.

But, as in teaching, there is also always room for improvement in evaluation methods. Though some prefer to focus on value-added and merit-pay schemes that so far haven’t definitively improved classroom performance, I want to key in on one recommendation the report makes for making the best use of teacher evaluations: evaluating all teachers.

First let’s set the stage. In years past, many teachers have reacted poorly to the idea of more evaluations because they hit at the very core of their identities.

A vast majority of teachers don’t see their jobs as just “jobs.” They see themselves as keepers of a flame, giving their all to make the world a better place one child at a time. They usually feel a special calling to mete out social justice — one that often prioritizes good intentions over skill as an educator or mastery of a content area.

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