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Where are teacher evaluations getting us? Part 1

By Timothy Boyle on Nov 22, 2010 02:34 PM

What decides whether a teacher is doing a satisfactory or unsatisfactory job? How do we as teachers know if we are meeting the teaching standards the School District of Philadelphia has decided upon, and what they are? Where does the common language come from that is used to facilitate the most important conversations administrators and teachers can have? Do evaluations lead to better student outcomes?

In part one of this series, we'll review what teacher evaluation looks like now.

Beginning in the 2009-10 school year the School District of Philadelphia adopted Charlotte Danielson's “Framework for Teaching.” Each teacher in the District was given a copy of “Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Professional Practice." The book details 25 instructional practice standards. Schools were encouraged to discuss the standards at professional development meetings and throughout the year as evaluations were done. The observation form administrators use to rate teachers was developed using Danielson's standards. 

Starting last year, administrators evaluated all teachers using all 25 standards from Danielson's framework.

Teachers are formally evaluated according to their professional status:

  • Tenured teachers (those with three years of satisfactory teaching in the District) receive an annual formal observation. If a tenured teacher receives an unsatisfactory rating, they are to receive semi-annual observations for a three-year period.

  • Temporary professional employees (less than three years teaching), long-term substitutes, and provisional employees all receive semi-annual formal observations.

A formal observation process should begin with a pre-conference between a teacher and an administrator. The purpose of the the pre-conference is to both start a dialogue about teaching expectations and discuss the goals of the lesson to be observed. The pre-conference is also a time to review lesson plans and begin filling out a very long observation form.

Within one 45-minute lesson an administrator needs to identify how a teacher performs within four domains of teaching:

  • planning and preparation,

  • classroom environment,

  • instruction, and

  • professionalism.  

There are 15 "core" instructional practices and 10 "remaining" instructional practices spread across the four domains. A four point scoring scale is used to rate a teacher's performance in each standard. For each instructional practice, teachers can receive a rating of: 

  • 1-does not meet standard,

  • 2-approaches standard,

  • 3-meets standard, or

  • 4-exceeds standard. 

In order for a teacher to be given a satisfactory observation, a rating of 3 must be evident for 12 of the 15 core instructional practices. A rating of 1 in any of the core instructional practices automatically constitutes an unsatisfactory rating. Additionally, a teacher cannot accrue more than three 1 ratings among the remaining instructional practices.

A description of teacher behavior accompanies each rating. For example, the rating descriptors for instructional practice 2.1 in the classroom environment domain are:

  • 1-Classroom does not reflect or inappropriately reflects students' cultures

  • 2-Classroom may not completely or appropriately reflect students' cultures

  • 3-Classroom appropriately reflects students' cultures

  • 4-Classroom appropriately reflects students' cultures, levels of development, and is integrated appropriately to content

(underlines from observation form)

The teacher observation form instructs administrators to write down comments based on evidence observed in the classroom for each instructional practice standard. "Substantial evidence" is needed for any ratings of 1 or not applicable. The form is very clear that a 4 is rare. "A rating of 4 exceeds standards, is considered distinguished, and is rarely evident in all categories.” (No one lives there.) Feedback on all 25 standards is accompanied by a summary of the observations, recommendations, and strengths witnessed.

The final product is supposed to facilitate the post-observation conference. It is in the post-conference where administrators and teachers have the "courageous conversation" about instruction. Recommendations are given to the teacher and a professional development plan is mapped out. In the event of an unsatisfactory observation, a consequences form is filled out. An unsatisfactory observation can lead to an unsatisfactory rating for the year.

In part two of this evaluation series, I would like to expound on the value of the one-shot formal observation, as well as discuss other observation methods and implementations.

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Comments (22)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 22, 2010 8:23 pm

If tenured teachers are only supposed to receive 1 formal observation per year, then why are we getting 2 at our school?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 22, 2010 10:22 pm

Is this in our contract book? What page?

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on November 23, 2010 8:10 am

Tenured teachers are only supposed to be observed only once. It is in the contract.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 23, 2010 8:53 pm

If you read the contract correctly you will see that tenured teachers get one formal rating per year, not observation. The principal can observe anyone as many times as they want.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 23, 2010 11:11 pm

1.Tenured teachers are "Rated" once per year (Formal Observation).
2.Non-Tenured are Rated (Formal Observation) twice per year.
3.Tenured and non-tenured teachers can be unofficially observed as many times
as the ratings officials want

Submitted by Ms. Chips (not verified) on November 22, 2010 9:27 pm

Excellent roll out of what officially was the plan!. Reality was that SOME teachers got a copy of the Danielson's book, and that some principals seem to have skipped their training session on the frameworks, so that when they presented to staff, they were unable to answer questions.

At one high school, where the teachers did not get the book, the first question was about rubrics for the observation domains. Principal promised to copy staff, clearly unaware that the book itself was expanded rubrics. Perhaps he didn't get a copy either. I think teachers are still waiting for the copies.

SDP's adaptation of the frameworks makes the observations Frameworks light. Principals later got instructions on how to rate the evaluations.

Submitted by Teacher in the trenches (not verified) on November 23, 2010 9:37 am

I have never seen this book - when did we get it??

Submitted by Bobbie Cratchitt (not verified) on November 23, 2010 9:32 am

Danielson's Framework is a comprehensive view of good teaching practice. When used appropriately (discussion, observations, feedback, collaborative on-going support) it is an effective tool. The district has skewed the effectiveness of the framework by making it a one-and-done evaluation of a teacher. It is NOT possible for any teacher to meet all of the strategies of the framework in one 45 minute period. For example (I do not have the form in front of me so I will paraphrase), an observation of a first grade teacher within a literacy block, using Guided Reading as a procedure, may not be "Effectively using technology in the lesson". If no evidence of this standard is observed, due to the appropriateness of the procedure (Guided Reading) the score would be a '1'? A seventh grade math teacher utilizing a smart board to illustrate angles, may receive a rating of '3'. Both teachers using appropriate, effective strategies would receive completely different ratings, therefore the observation form is arbitrary and possibly punitive. Also, I fear that as the collective community looks toward merit pay systems, would the 'points' earned on this observation form be used to establish a teacher's effectiveness for merit pay? In a 45 minute period? Once a year? That would base a merit pay system on one student test score (PSSA) and one teacher observation. Hmmmmm.....

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 23, 2010 1:31 pm

This is the official plan but is not implemented as such. As a second year teacher, I have been observed twice. I have never had a pre- or post- observation meeting and have never received formal written feedback.

All this inconsistency makes me wonder what the administrator evaluation plan is?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 23, 2010 11:20 pm

The pre and post observation conferences only occur when they FORMALLY observe you (to rate you). Informally they observe you all they want.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 24, 2010 4:55 pm

I have not had a pre or post observation conference and I have been FORMALLY observed. You need to stop putting out incorrect information. There are formal and informal observations (learning walks). If the principal observes you and chooses to 204 you, he/she can do so with or without pre and post observation conferences.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 24, 2010 5:10 pm

NO they cannot. Your Building Committee needs to stop letting them get away with that.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 24, 2010 7:37 pm

As I understand it, administrator could 204 you at any point if they observe you doing something that violates the contract or is unprofessional (wouldn't even need to be from an observation). But an unsatisfactory observation for the purpose of moving someone though the new evaluation system wouldn't count without the pre- and post-observation.

Submitted by Teacher in the trenches (not verified) on November 23, 2010 1:32 pm

They are graded on how many of us they fail.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 23, 2010 5:30 pm

As a tenured teacher (20 plus years) I was NEVER evaluated last year. Principal kept postponing, but she certainly did "warn" me that I better not score a 1 in any of the categories.....

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 24, 2010 12:52 pm

Personally, as a teacher, I want them to observe more, not less. I'd rather they see several of my classes and get a realistic picture of what's going on in my classroom and how I use different methods when its appropriate rather than whether I could use a bunch of fancy strategies in one period so that the AP can check off all the boxes on the form. If an administration is doing its job, the formal observations should just be a formality -- a good administrator knows what's going on in the classrooms without a formalized process.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 24, 2010 4:44 pm

I completely agree with you.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 20, 2011 3:04 am

Where are the rules for formal observations printed? I was formally observed with no pre observation conference? When must the first formal observation be done?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 15, 2012 10:27 am

I am a new teacher who is going to be observed for the first time. I was hired after the school year in November, so I never had any
'introduction to the district and school' that is mentioned in the contract. The classroom was bare; I was given students the first day I arrived. Since then I have been trying to make and get the required signage on the walls, including word walls. I have been teaching myself how the curriculum works via teacher guides. (Which current teachers were given PD on.) It has been exhausting doing this while being expected to teach students a curriculum I barely know.I have a student in my class who has physically threatened me. The school is aware of this. He is out of control and back in my room waiting to be evaluated. There is another student waiting to be evaluated for academic reasons, however; his behavior is poor, probably becasue he doesn't understand much. Most of the remaining students have behavior problems as well, often replying to the student who is out of control. I have been trying to establish procedures and routines, they are successful with a few all the time, with some once in a while, and others, never. (I guess it is difficult for the students to adjust, there was a permanent teacher who was forced transferred, and a per diem sub until I began in November.) Some of these students are not only bad with me, but also get into trouble at lunch and in specials. I have no Promethean board, projector, or even an overhead. I'm sure this is common in Philly.

My questions are; will I receive a '1' for technology even though there is none in the classroom? (There are two desktop computers, but wouldn't apply to the whole class lesson I am planning.) I teach 6th grade and some of my students read on a 1st grade level. As s result I need to walk around frequently and point words and such out to these students. If I had a Promethean board or an overhead I could use that to accomplish this. While I and assisting individual students the other students misbehave, not just talking, but throwing things.

I am afraid I will fail this observation. Should I mention any of these things at my pre-observation conference? (I was given a pre-observation form.) Do I put any of these concerns on the form? I have never seen the book referred to in this article. Maybe I'll see it during my pre-observation conference.

Does anybody have any wisdom for me? The student who is out of control, does not often respond to redirection. How often should I try to redirect him during the observation? This could be constant. When do I just ignore him as long as the other students are somewhat engaged in the lesson? What happens if a teacher is rated unsatisfactorily? At what point do they fire you? The administrator who is going to observe me arrives early each day, and sees me there before 7:00, so she must be aware that I am trying, and not just goofing off.

Any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 15, 2012 10:07 am

My suggestion would be to relax and do your best. You describe the same situation I am in (except I started on day 1...but with no days before the get ready) I had similar concerns but passed 2 formals and over 20 informals (yes, in just this half year)

I would be willing to bet that you won't get unsatisfactory bt if you do, deal with it then. Nervousness never makes it better. Good luck!!!!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 13, 2012 4:29 pm
I was wondering when should I receive my post observation evaluation feedback? Should it be within a certain amount of days? And if it is not back within these days do I receive a satisfactory evaluation?.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 13, 2012 5:59 pm
If you do not receive it back within 5 days, it is satisfactory.

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