Accountability measures for schools and educators are at an all-time high. Rather than being considered as a simple norm of everyday school, teacher evaluations should be part of a cohesive process that supports continuous improvement aligned with both personal and schoolwide goals and initiatives. Consequently, as teachers and administrators commit themselves to best practices, the ultimate goal should be to increase student achievement and empower both staff and students.

Formative Assessment Practices of Teachers and Students

Just as the goal for teachers employing formative assessment practices in the classroom is to monitor student progress toward a learning target, a principal should mirror this same mindset when evaluating teachers. Not providing teachers with the means to improve creates a substantial barrier to teachers’ improvement of professional development. The teacher evaluation process should include multiple highly structured classroom observations throughout the year, representing a formative approach to teacher observation. In this model, the principal and experienced peers guide and facilitate growth throughout the school year.

Eric S. Tyler and John H. Tyler evaluated teachers using a practice-based formative evaluation approach in the study, “Can Teacher Evaluation Improve Teaching?”. The achievement of individual teachers’ students was compared before, during, and after the teacher’s evaluation year. Their research proved that a student instructed by a given teacher after that teacher had been through the evaluation process scored approximately 11 percent of a standard deviation higher in math than a student taught by the same teacher before the teacher was evaluated. Ultimately, the research found that the effective use of the evaluation process developed skills and changed teacher behavior in a lasting manner, which increased student achievement over time.

Formative leadership creates meaningful learning partnerships with teachers and students because the teacher is viewed as a learner. Principals should view themselves as instructional leaders as part of this evaluation process, striving to develop a learning-focused assessment culture aimed at increasing student achievement. Simply put, principals should make frequent classroom visits and focused conversations with teachers a priority.

Components of the Evaluation Tool

For decades, the evaluation process involved principals completing a one-time observation checklist during the school year. The teacher evaluation process both began and ended there. New systems require multiple observations using extensive rubrics, detailed feedback, and post-observation meetings to discuss the feedback in detail. Such performance rubrics include descriptions of practices and performance levels for each practice.

Matthew A. Kraft and Allison F. Gilmour conducted a case study that examined the perceptions and thoughts of 24 principals in an urban school district that had recently implemented major reforms to its teacher evaluation system. Their findings—included in “Can Principals Promote Teacher Development as Evaluators?”—discovered that the rubrics used as part of the evaluation process provided “a common framework and language that aided principals in assessing and discussing teachers’ professional practice.” As a result, teachers became more involved in the evaluation process, and the culture of the process focused more on principals promoting professional growth, as opposed to teacher dismissal. Effective principals must strive to create, develop, and sustain cooperative, nonthreatening teacher-supervisor partnerships that should be characterized by trust, openness, and freedom to make mistakes. Principals must not employ an authoritarian approach, but rather encourage collaborative efforts.

Due to the increased rigor of the evaluation rubrics, teachers were pushed to “recognize and address their own areas for improvement after being rated satisfactory for many years,” which made for challenging conversations that principals once tended to avoid. Despite this culture shift, teachers and administrators were able to create professional development plans with more clarity and purpose.

Facilitation of Evaluation Feedback

The feedback given to teachers from an observation must be detailed, specific, accurate, and bias-free. Student achievement will only increase as a result of the teacher evaluation process if the evaluation itself is useful to the teacher. In the 2015 NASSP Bulletin, Edit Khachatryan specifically explored teacher evaluation in terms of the type of feedback given to teachers their perception of feedback versus its intention by the evaluator, and whether the feedback made a difference in teaching practices. The findings suggested that “feedback that focuses attention on the details of instructional moves—the ‘task details’ in Feedback Intervention Theory (FIT) terms—prompts teachers’ learning processes and plans for changes in teaching.”

It is also interesting to note that three of the four teachers who were observed decided to focus on areas of teaching not related to the curriculum after their evaluation feedback. The fourth teacher, who was a history teacher, received more content-related feedback because of the administrator’s background in history and decided to concentrate her efforts in the curriculum realm. The study produced a strong implication that “content knowledge may be necessary for providing effective feedback and pushing teachers to improve practice within content domains.” However, no one administrator is an expert in all content areas, which prompts thinking that the evaluator’s content expertise should be aligned with content area background to assure maximum evaluation feedback.

Importance of Reflection

Results from multiple formative evaluations should guide teachers’ professional growth plans. Professional growth plans create an emphasis on reflective lifelong learning. The plans ask teachers to create goals for professional development—designed and written by the teacher—but aligned with evaluation feedback. Principals need to find the right balance between encouraging professional freedom and providing guidance and direction for learning that would benefit the school community. Evaluators must be conscious not to control, but rather to support professional development utilizing effective evaluation feedback. Only then will teachers be able to generate goals to improve practices, ultimately leading to student success. Once this connection is made, administrators can develop a cohesive plan for professional development.

Best Research Practices

Evaluation can serve as a tool for school improvement if it works in tandem with the facilitation and support of teacher practice aligned with the beliefs of educational theory. An effective teacher evaluation process supports John Dewey’s argument that the social experience of education is just as paramount as formal learning by recognizing humans are social beings. Mindful human interaction during evaluations, feedback meetings, and professional growth plan collaboration opportunities fuels the effective teaching and learning practices of a school community.

  • Principals can promote teacher development and student achievement by implementing a well-designed evaluation process that includes:
  • Multiple formative assessments/observations
  • Creation of meaningful learning partnerships
  • Detailed feedback highlighting the how of best teaching and learning practices
  • Creation of a professional growth plan aligned with detailed evaluation feedback
  • Professional development opportunities aligned with teachers’ professional growth plans

By following these research-based best practices of teacher evaluation, a principal possesses the potential to elevate the teacher-evaluation process from compliance to commitment, ultimately benefiting student achievement and the school community as a whole.

Krista Redmond teaches instructional strategies and methods in elementary English language arts and is the supervisor of student teachers at Louisiana State University-Alexandria in Alexandria, LA.