Why Formative Assessment is a Big Win in Teacher Evaluation

Formative assessment does away with the “drive-by observation,” to improve teacher performance and student achievement.

We asked this question recently to dozens of educators. The high school teacher who answered below is representative of many. Her answer points to what has been a major problem in teacher evaluation for decades, a problem recent education reforms are now beginning to address. Question:  What are your biggest likes/dislikes about K-12 teacher evaluations/observations?How can an administrator know if I’m doing my job by dropping in on one class? Especially when they often tell you ahead of time when they’ll be coming, so you can plan a “fun” activity.  It’s baffling to me. The one important thing they can determine from these “drive-by observations” is whether I have a good rapport with my students.

They should be looking at:

• all my lesson plans

• what type of assignments I give

• the students’ averages on those assignments

• the feedback I give

• my students’ improvement

Instead, I think they rely on anecdotal complaints from parents as red flags to examine that stuff only if necessary. In the school I recently left, one teacher was known for being lazy. She assigned less work than the rest of us, took longer giving feedback, and didn’t use the computers the way we were supposed to. None of that got examined.The Marzano Center responds:

You’ve brought up a major issue with traditional teacher evaluations, as for years, many teacher evaluation systems have involved little more than principals collecting static pictures of how well teachers perform in any given moment. A well-designed teacher evaluation model helps teachers improve their instruction over time, leading students to ever-higher achievement.  By providing clear strategies and measurable goals to help teachers, year by year, teachers can grow into the best educators they are capable of being.

The Marzano Center approach to evaluation:

• Identifies the direct cause-and-effect relationship between teaching practices and student achievement
• Helps teachers and leaders make informed decisions to yield the greatest benefits for their students
• Is based on 40 years of collected research and five years of real-classroom experimental/control studies
• Is tested for inter-rater reliability and aligned with intensive training for accuracy and fairness
• Makes steady, measurable increases in student achievement an achievable goal

Furthermore, The Marzano Center believes that the best foundation for teacher evaluation is Formative Assessment.  Formative Assessment is simply the measurement of student progress over time using multiple measures.  Instead of ‘thick slice’ assessment (data taken from a single point in time, and/or data with very large blocks of time between measurements), formative assessments are conducted at meaningful ‘thin slice’ points measured throughout the academic year.  Formative assessment is, therefore, much closer to the classroom and reflects changes in instructional practices. By making student progress part of your evaluations (as opposed to being strictly based on a single point-in-time test score), your own progress in improvement is factored in.

For more on this question, join the discussion at:
What are your biggest likes/dislikes about K-12 teacher evaluations/observations?

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