Grading Educators: Is There an Answer?

How can we evaluate educators to ensure teacher effectiveness?

Posted Jun 08, 2012

Policy makers and government officials around the country are demanding an overhaul of our country’s education system—often starting with educators themselves.

And yet, the question of identifying instructors as “proficient” or “underachieving” is one which undeniably carries with it a wealth of concerns, despite its importance to fostering efficient schools. We took the question to members of the American Psychological Association, Division 15 (Educational Psychology).

Fareed Bordbar, a member from the University of Alabama, writes that one issue with teacher evaluation “is directly linked to the problem of defining what effective or good teaching is. Even after nearly a century of teaching research and practice, there is still no clear consensus on what an effective teacher is and does.” Varying ideas concerning the role of instructors, he argues, make a unified evaluation standard near impossible.

Our members’ concerns, however, didn’t stop there. Bree Frick, an instructor of educational psychology, notes the inherent difficulty in shifting emphasis away from standardized testing:

Testing for a teacher's ability to foster higher-order thinking skills, such as problem-solving ability and hypothetico-deductive reasoning, is indeed a goal worthy of pursuing.... Unfortunately, as we all know, standardized tests that measure rote memorization and test-taking skills (over evidence of deep learning) are a breeze to use in norm-referenced analyses. Bubble sheet assessments measuring student progress—which in turn are used to determine teacher quality—are far less costly than classroom observations or alternate forms of assessment that focus on teachers themselves.

She goes on to note that “I believe it could (and should) be done, but how one creates an appropriate, widely approved measure for the quality of the learning process—as opposed to a strictly summative evaluation—is a challenge.”

Professor Richard Hake’s commentary carried a new spin on the topic, citing an alternative approach: that teacher evaluations should be self-served and self-regulated. Here, he explains, pre/post testing analysis can reveal real insights into where educators are succeeding and where they’re failing to engage students.

Despite varied concerns and approaches to the problem, members were consistent in the idea that teacher evaluation—and subsequent refinement—plays a critical role in today’s education; it’s something we’ll need to get right—at least if we aim to develop teacher effectiveness across the country.