Teacher evaluation should focus on improving instruction

Print More

Illinois has a good opportunity to be creative and provide leadership in
the development of new evaluation systems for teachers, the executive
director of the Illinois Education Association said at a gathering of
some 250 education leaders this week. Illinois has a good opportunity to be creative and provide leadership in the development of new evaluation systems for teachers, the executive director of the Illinois Education Association said at a gathering of some 250 education leaders this week.
Speaking as part of the Chicago Schools Policy Luncheon Series, Audrey Soglin noted that Illinois’ new state law on teacher evaluation requires school districts to incorporate student growth but allows school boards and teacher unions to decide the particulars, such as how growth is measured and, within limits, how much it counts for. In other states, the state itself has issued mandates.

If a district’s board and union can’t agree, though, the district would be required to use a “default” plan now being developed by a broad-based state committee. In the case of Chicago, the “default” would be the last best offer of the School Board.

The legislation also changes the rating categories for tenured teachers, making them excellent, proficient, needs improvement and unsatisfactory. Teachers identified as needing improvement will be put on a professional development plan.

The state committee, meanwhile, is working to develop universal methods for assessing teacher practice and defining effective teaching, something that Soglin said will give teachers a better idea of how they’re being evaluated.  

“We have to have a clear definition,” she said.  “So if you’re a teacher and you’re being observed, you know that every observer is looking for the same things. Without that definition, it’s not understandable and certainly isn’t going to build the capacity around instruction.”

Soglin said it’s important to focus on effective teaching, not effective teachers.  The latter implies that everyone has to have the same style, she said, when in reality there has to be room for teachers to be innovative and creative in the classroom.

Alicia Winckler, chief human capital officer for Chicago Public Schools, also spoke at the event and said that teacher evaluation and professional development should be inextricably linked.

“I decidedly want to see teachers treated as important professionals – as important as doctors,” Winkler said. But in order to do so, she said, teachers need to be held to higher standards.

Last year, only 200 teachers out of over 23,000 were rated unsatisfactory, according to Winckler. Yet few steps were taken toward improvement. “The coaching, development and feedback was little to none.”

Noting the need to differentiate between teachers at varying levels of performance, Winckler noted, “we treat far too many adults in education equally and identically. The arrangement hasn’t worked for us, and hasn’t worked for students, teachers or communities.”

CPS must design an evaluation system that is balanced between teacher practice and student learning, she said.

Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, echoed Winkler in discussing how the current evaluation system does little to accurately reflect teacher quality.

“No one is seriously arguing that student growth should be irrelevant in evaluating teachers,” he said.  “The issue is not whether we should design a compensation and evaluation system based on student growth, but how we do it.” 

Most of the charter sector believes that personal autonomy and the ability to hire and dismiss teachers is a key component to charter flexibility, Broy said.  He said he hopes that CPS officials keeps this in mind as they work to design a more effective teacher evaluation system. 

“The harder work for us is clearly ahead of us,” Broy said. “The only question is, once we’ve designed a system that is sound and fair, what do we use that information for?”

The luncheon was the second of a two-part series titled “Teacher evaluation and compensation: Getting it right,” organized by Business and Professional People for the Public Interest and Catalyst Chicago. 

Audio from the first panel discussion—featuring Susan Moore Johnson of Harvard University, Karen Lewis of the Chicago Teachers Union and Peter Martinez of the UIC leadership development program—can be heard through the Chicago Amplified Program of Chicago Public Media (WBEZ 91.5).

CAN-TV will broadcast its video of the event AT 11:30 a.m. Dec. 12 on Channel 21 and at 10:30 a.m. Dec. 16 on Channel 19.