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Diane Ravitch's Blog: Teacher in Palm Beach County: How I Am Evaluated

Thanks to Arne Duncan, almost every state now has an elaborate teacher evaluation plan. There is no evidence that the pans identify teachers correctly, but they are widespread because Duncan believes and he is Secretary of Education, with more certainty than any of his predecessors.

What hath Arne wrought? Here is an account I hope he reads. It shows what a mess he has made in thousands of schools.

I”ve been trying to find the right place to share what I’ve written about the ridiculous evaluation process that occurs in Palm Beach County, FL. Friends who have read it asked that I share it with you, Diane.

My teacher evaluation rant

I’m about to write out the long, stupidly involved story of the truth behind teacher evaluations, specifically at my school, but likely not too different than everywhere.

Five (or more) times in the school year my principal does classroom observations. There are three different kinds: 1 formal, forty minute lesson observation; 2 5-15 minute informal; 2 30 second-2 minute walkthroughs. She evaluates me using the Robert Marzano Menu of Design Questions There are about 60 specific behaviors within 4 different domains, each with 3-7 components, that she is looking for during those observations.

Each of the 60 behaviors is then graded on a scale of: not using, beginning, developing, applying, and innovating. The evaluator, after marking off the components then decides how to grade the behavior. Comments, if appropriate are also added (as in: All of the students were actively engaged in the lesson) At the end of each observation I get an email directing me to approve the observation.

At the end of the year, the grades for each behavior are calculated to determine if the teacher is: Highly Effective (3.2 – 4.0), Effective (2.1 – 3.1), Developing (1.2 – 2.0) or Unsatisfactory (1.0 – 1.1). Last year I was deemed Highly Effective based on my observations. I didn’t really look at the details because I was overly pleased with the results.

I should note that for my first two years teaching this was a new evaluation system. Our district decided that during the learning curve process ALL teachers would be given the same grade/evaluation level of Effective, so the observations were a tool for us to begin to look at where we could stand to improve and what we were already doing well. The fact that I was evaluated as Highly Effective had no bearing on anything, since ALL teachers were graded as Effective. Also, last year only 2 of the 4 domains were observed. This year only 3 were observed.

The added domain is for our own personal professional development. I mention this because we were instructed at the beginning of the year that ALL teachers had to have the same personal professional development goal: to improve student success through implementation of the Marzano Techniques of Teaching (see a trend?). I didn’t want this to be my goal, but I didn’t have a choice (don’t get me started). (Last year my personal goal was to improve my ELL students’ oral language assessments by 50% – I reached that goal and then some).

This year’s evaluation has come back and I am now graded as Effective with an overall score of 3.0. I was wondering how I dropped from Highly Effective to Effective, so I started looking more closely at the numbers. Here is what I saw:

I was marked as Innovating (4.0) for 12/31 behaviors
I was marked as Applying (3.0)for 19/31 behaviors.
I had no lower marks than that.

Now in my world of calculating scores, I would multiply 4 x 12 = 48 and 3 x19=57, then add them together 48 + 57 = 105, then divide by 31 which equals 3.39. 3.39 is Highly Effective, but I was graded as 3.0 – Effective. Hmm. I called my union rep and she was not sure how that could be. She also, for what it’s worth, had a similar score drop. She remembered that there was some ridiculous way to calculate the previous two years, and thought maybe they are doing the same thing this year. Regardless, neither of us knew how our scores were calculated, so we knew we would have to ask higher ups.

I asked my principal. She wasn’t sure how it is done, either. She suggested that we both call/email the woman at the district who is in charge. So I did. This is what I learned: If 50% or more of your marks are Highly Effective, then you are Highly Effective; if 50% or more are effective than you are effective, and so on.

Then I began to wonder, as has my union rep, how is it that I was more effective last year than I am this year? What am I NOT doing now that I did then? It turns out that I am, in fact doing the same things. I was marked as doing the same exact components of behaviors this year as I was for last year. The difference is, last year I was rated as innovating more times. So, for example let’s say Behavior A has 6 components. Last year when I was checked off as meeting all 6 I was deemed innovating. This year those 6 components checked off are only earning me applying. WHY? HOW? Fortunately, I am friends with a number of people who have some real answers.

The answer isn’t pretty, but it’s been corroborated by more than one source. Here we go…

The principals and assistant principals were told that they were *giving out too many innovatings and that they needed to mark innovating less often*. In other words, the evaluation that is supposed to determine our level of teaching, which in turn determines our merit pay (no, we don’t really get merit pay. we’re supposed to, but that’s a whole different – let’s lie to the people of Florida – nightmare) is being manipulated by the powers that be in an effort to…I don’t know…make it seem like teachers aren’t as good as we are. So they can pay us less and blame us more. The powers that be are doing to the teachers what the high stakes testers are doing to our students: creating a system that is skewed to failure (or mediocrity).

I am outraged. Mostly I am outraged that Principals and Assistant principals, who know this is wrong and are being asked to downgrade their own teachers, are going along with it and not fighting back. The people who told me are in those leadership positions. They know it’s wrong. But they pooh-pooh saying things like, “Everyone knows those evaluations aren’t right, so what does it matter? *I* know who’s great and doing a great job, so the evaluation doesn’t really matter between you and me and the kids. ”

And I almost buy it. Except for this: my evaluation is public record. Any parent can go to the district and access my evaluation score. Most parents won’t, it is true. Only parents who have a beef with a teacher would do that, as it so happens. But that’s when the difference between effective and highly effective DOES matter. I AM highly effective. I know it. My administrators know it. My students know it. But when a parent who is already certain I am picking on his/her kid or that I don’t know how to teach his/her kid goes to access my records, they see I am Effective, not Highly Effective. It’s fuel for their fodder, which I do not like.

And if I go to work in another district, all the hiring people will see is Effective. I don’t like it. Not one little bit.

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Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch is Research Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education. She is the Co-Founder and President of the Network for Publi...