Teacher Effectiveness

Showing a Way with Words for Teacher Evals

Which term would be easier for a principal to use in a teacher evaluation: "unacceptable" or "improvement needed?" Which would you rather receive if you exceeded expectations: "distinguished" or "level 5?" These kinds of questions form the core of a recently published study by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), which looked at the evaluation systems in 123 large districts to tally the terminology used in teacher ratings.

All but four of the districts used at least three ratings to identify teachers across the spectrum of their effectiveness; and most used four ratings. The most commonly used terms are "ineffective," "effective" and "highly effective."

According to the study, 17 different labels are in use in these districts to define teachers at the low end of performance and 18 labels are being used for those at the high end. And some of the districts use different terms, depending on whether the teacher is new to the field or an old hand. As the report noted, for example, in Florida and Virginia, early career teachers may receive a rating of "developing" to acknowledge their steep learning curve, while those who have been teaching for a while may receive a rating of "needs improvement."

Just two districts in the study completely avoided final ratings for their teachers. Lewisville Independent School District in Texas judges its teachers in a "holistic manner"; at the end of the school year the teacher and an evaluator "collaboratively" decide whether the teacher has met his or her goals for the year. In Vermont's Burlington School District, school leaders make recommendations to renew or not renew the teacher's contract or offer assistance or supervision.

NCTQ suggested that districts consider what they're trying to measure, to make sure their evaluation system allows them to convey that, and that it chooses language that a principal would be comfortable delivering in a teacher assessment.

A brief article sharing the results of the study is openly available on the NCTQ website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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