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Eric D. Barreto It’s that time of the semester when fine weather and the end of an academic term meld into one lovely concoction of hopeful anticipation. After a long winter, I am relishing the open windows and the warm sunlight. After a long academic year, the promise of ...
Designing Teacher Evaluation Systems: New Guidance from the Measures of Effective Teaching Project
Date Reviewed: April 8, 2015
Designing Teacher Evaluation Systems is a collection of sixteen articles analyzing data produced by the Measures of Effective Teaching project, an initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The research was conducted with three thousand pre-collegiate teachers working in urban districts. The results and the articles forming the book itself are divided among three themes: using data for feedback and evaluation, connecting evaluation measures with student learning, and the properties of evaluation systems. In short, the book takes on the challenge of what classroom observations and standardized test scores can tell us about good teaching. The core audience for the book seems to be those responsible for educational policy and leadership in primary and secondary schools.
University faculty, especially those responsible for the evaluation of classroom teaching, may find this book to be of some use. The third chapter underscores the difficulty of consistency in classroom observation scores and insists on training procedures “that discipline observer judgments in order to produce valid and reliable scores” (53). The chapter goes on to analyze the distinctive approaches of “master scorers” versus those who are newly initiated. Similar arguments are made in the twelfth chapter on minimizing rater bias in classroom observations. The tenth chapter, “Understanding Instructional Quality in English Language Arts,” may be interesting to instructors in the humanities at any level. The authors of the study note that evaluation systems “make transparent what an organization values” and “no observation instrument is neutral” (325). They report that instructional quality varies in relation to the content of lessons and single out the teaching of writing as particularly challenging; an insight that college educators can appreciate.
In chapter eleven, researchers investigate how “working conditions predict teaching quality and student outcomes” (332). Their evidence reveals that “active believer” teachers who maintain high expectations for their students and participate actively with colleagues produce better results in their classrooms. Amusingly, teachers in the contrasting and ineffective category are deemed “isolated agnostics.” It is also shown that students benefit from a mixture of “academic support” and “academic press” – they are fostered in different ways by being both cared for and challenged. This chapter ends with a list of thought-provoking implications for how educational leaders can create a better environment for effective teaching. Chapter fourteen offers another look at the “cognitive complexity” of scoring classroom observation rubrics (436). It is suggested that an observation cycle might be an effective remedy, where an initial thirty-minute observation focused on scoring a rubric precedes a longer diagnostic observation. In this way the observer is able to provide more focused feedback.
The data-driven authors of this book would be the first to admit the conclusions within are not necessarily translatable to the college environment. I cannot, therefore, recommend a cover-to-cover reading to faculty working on the evaluation of university teaching. I do, however, believe that individual chapters contain interesting points of reflection on the teacher evaluation process at any level and have endeavored to highlight some of the best examples above.
Assessing and Improving Your Teaching: Strategies and Rubrics for Faculty Growth and Student Learning
Date Reviewed: February 12, 2015
Assessing and Improving Your Teaching by Phyllis Blumberg describes a comprehensive plan for teacher development and offers creative strategies for teachers at all stages of their professional career. Blumberg identifies many ways by which faculty can gain insights and improve the quality of their teaching to foster better student learning. This book is an excellent resource for both beginning instructors and more experienced ones especially in terms of recommended methods and tools for assessing faculty growth and learning outcomes. The book goes beyond well-documented analysis of individual strategies and contributes to the relatively few studies that integrate strategies from a hierarchical approach to improve teaching. For Blumberg, “a hierarchical approach” is one “that places the locus of control with the instructor who wants to improve, rather than with others who need to judge teaching performance,” and “provides a robust teaching enhancement process” (4).
The first part of the book describes Blumberg’s hierarchical approach by initially establishing criteria that define teaching standards. Borrowing a commonly used, learning-centered approach to teaching, Blumberg focuses primarily on what the instructor does to promote student learning and discusses misconceptions about teaching. She then recommends alternative ideas and essential aspects of teaching for “deep and intentional learning.” The second and third parts of the book build on each other by describing a constructive self-assessment model which uses self-assessment rubrics for purposes of improving and assessing teacher effectiveness. Blumberg believes that teaching is composed of many different skills that can be learned. However, she encourages “systematic growth” which results from periodic, critical reflection on one’s teaching along with on-going critical review and the incorporation and documentation of both.
In addition to discussing ways to improve teaching, Blumberg proposes three types of principles for assessing teaching, namely: (1) the context for assessment or what to assess; (2) the assessment methods or how to assess; and (3) the results of this assessment process. She notes that many professors who serve on promotion and tenure committees regularly comment on how little is actually analyzed or documented about the teaching process or teacher effectiveness. Using multiple sources of data about teaching effectiveness, Blumberg shows there is a need throughout the academy to supplement student course evaluation data with other appropriate procedures and tools” (116). Opposed to the older instructor-centered models in which assessment focuses on teaching performance or lecturing skills, she emphasizes other roles and skills such as course alignment, organization of educational experiences, and reflection on instruction. The tools for self-reflection and analysis include rating scales and descriptive rubrics; Blumberg also describes five cases from very different contexts of teaching and faculty members with different levels of experience.
This book is a valuable contribution to literature on the evaluation of teaching in higher education because it contains both assessment forms that others can use to assess teachers as well as tools that instructors can use for self-reflection and analysis.
Maybe you’ve been here before. It’s the middle of the semester. Your undergraduate survey class has been rolling along fine. Students are fairly engaged, and you feel you have a good rapport. Then along comes the mid-term, and you realize that the situation is not what you thought. ...
Am I the only one who didn’t learn to read until graduate school, or possibly until I started teaching? A convergence of things brought me to this realization. My current institution’s most recent alumni magazine included a feature on our New Media Studies program. It started only two ...