Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Teacher Appraisal or Evaluation

A California court has struck down their teacher tenure rules as being "unconstitutional". Apparently, bad teachers are protected by tenure and so it follows that students of these teachers do not receive the education guaranteed under the state's constitution. Considerable public discussion has included assertions of "bad" teachers and "bad" teaching, presupposing a mechanism for determining "bad".

Herein, unfortunately, lies the rub. Unlike some other fields, performance management in education has two aims: (a) deciding who goes and who stays and (b) identifying strengths (to be taken advantage of) and weaknesses (to be improved). Accordingly, two distinct forms of monitoring and evaluation are required, serving two purposes and producing two results. I use the terms "evaluation" and "appraisal" to show these distinctions.

Evaluation is an annual exercise conducted by the highest authority in the school. A pass/fail judgement, based on specific criteria, which produces one of only two possible outcomes: the initial hire or not; a contract for the next year or dismissal; a pay-increase or none; a demotion or not; a promotion or not. Discussions about evaluation then concern the criteria to support such a judgement.

Appraisal is a continuous exercise conducted by different players including peers, Heads of Subject, Grade Level, Division and so on. Strengths are identified which might then be used to assist colleagues; weaknesses are also identified and then support provided so as to address these weaknesses. Appraisal is an integral element of Continuous Professional Development ("CPD"), involving many players and addressing many things.

Some performance indicators are clearly common to both, such as classroom management or subject knowledge or meeting administrative deadlines with report-submission and so on, which presents considerable potential for conflict. However, appraisal and evaluation serve two distinct goals and so must be kept separate. Appraisal is a positive and collaborative process; evaluation is a single-event. Appraisal is bottom-up; evaluation is top down. Appraisal is connected with performance improvement; evaluation is connected with employment status.

Every time I hear of a problem with teacher performance management, I find on investigation a blurring of the two functions. When a school leader separates out the management function from the employment, such problems disappear.

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