Teacher Evaluation Changes Raising Anxiety, Fears

More rigorous, comprehensive performance evaluation systems have been making their way into the classroom over the past several years. Although much ink has been spilled about the impact such systems might have on student outcomes, the reactions of teachers who now have to work day to day under a higher level of scrutiny — and with greater consequences — are still being revealed.

According to Motoko Rich writing for The New York Times, many teachers dealing with new, unfamiliar evaluation systems are reporting higher levels of stress. This happens especially during the initial rollout period, mainly because teachers feel that they're charged with doing and accomplishing much more than is reasonably possible.

A fifth-grade teacher from Longmont, Colorado pointed out that even if the school was in session a whole year round, that would still not be enough time to cram in everything that the updated state guidelines say is required.

Fueled in part by efforts to qualify for the Obama administration's Race to the Top federal grant program or waivers from the toughest conditions of No Child Left Behind, the Bush-era education law, 36 states and the District of Columbia have introduced new teacher evaluation policies in the past three years, according to the National Center on Teacher Quality, a nonprofit research and advocacy group. An increasing number of states are directing districts to use these evaluations in decisions about how teachers are granted tenure, promoted or fired.

The improved systems attempt to tackle a real problem. When a district uses assessment methods that mark everyone as "satisfactory," the whole point of the regular assessment is lost — not to mention that a better approach provides an opportunity for the instructors to receive real feedback to, at least theoretically, improve their performance. Something like that could not only help teachers become better, it could provide a real benefit to their students as well.

The main bone of contention seems to be that a percentage of the final evaluation grade is usually derived from objective criteria such as scores on standardized tests. That was one of the issues in play over the strike action called by the Chicago Teachers Union earlier this year.

Meanwhile, districts are dealing with these kinds of teacher anxieties in different ways. At St. Vrain Valley School District in Colorado, a day-long training seminar helped to acquaint both teachers and principals with the ins and outs of the new system.

During the St. Vrain training session, officials from the state Education Department sought to tamp down fears that the new evaluations were designed to weed out or shame underperforming teachers. "It is not about a ‘gotcha' game," Mike Gradoz, a consultant with the department, told the teachers and principals. "It is about elevating the game so you get better at what you already do."

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