By Emily Kingsland
In order to successfully evaluate teachers, education systems first must work with key stakeholders to define what it means to be a good teacher and then develop clear standards for the profession, according to a new background report released by the OECD in advance of the 2013 International Summit on the Teaching Profession. The report, Teachers for the 21st Century: Using Evaluation to Improve Teaching, provides an analysis of how the countries studied evaluate their teachers by identifying the elements of teacher performance that are most frequently appraised, the tools used in teacher evaluation and the ways in which evaluation results inform teaching and learning.
During a webinar which provided an overview of the report’s findings, Andreas Schleicher, Deputy Director for Education and Skills and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the OECD’s Secretary-General, emphasized that teacher evaluation by itself will not significantly affect student learning, but should be considered as part of a larger set of strategies: teaching must be an attractive career choice, high quality teacher education programs must be available to future teachers, teachers should be granted professional autonomy once they enter the classroom, effective in-service professional development opportunities must be provided and teachers must be active participants in the development of any teacher evaluation system.
Why Evaluate Teachers?
According to the report, teacher evaluations are mainly conducted for two reasons — to improve teaching and learning and to provide accountability. Formative evaluations are used to provide teachers with meaningful feedback that can inform profession development. Summative evaluations can be used as the basis of accountability systems focused on individual teachers and are usually linked to some type of consequence for teachers such as career decisions or salary changes.
While many countries use evaluations for both summative and formative purposes, the report authors point out that the approach used for each should be quite different. For example, if the goal of the evaluation is to improve teaching practices, then self-evaluations makes sense because teachers are more likely to admit their faults with the expectation that providing this information will lead to effective decisions about their developmental needs and future training opportunities. However when the purpose is accountability and teachers face potential consequences concerning their career or salaries, self-evaluations do not work. Summative evaluations need to have a strong external component, such as an accredited external evaluator, and a more formal process to ensure fairness. And, formative evaluations need to be more context-based, taking into account the unique circumstances surrounding the teacher’s history and the school’s setting.
What Elements Are Evaluated?
During the webinar, Schleicher commented that education systems cannot improve what they cannot define. Therefore, he said, standards that define what teachers need to know and be able to do are essential to developing effective evaluations systems. The report emphasizes the importance of involving teachers in developing standards for the profession. The process used to develop national teacher standards in Australia included a consultation phase that involved all key education stakeholders including teachers, teacher associations, teacher educators, employers, unions and regulatory authorities. Similarly, in New Zealand, the professional body for teachers led the process of defining standards for the profession with the extensive involvement of teachers, employers and teacher unions.
The report found that the elements of teacher performance that are most frequently evaluated are related to planning and preparation, instruction, the classroom environment and professional responsibilities. Teacher evaluations could also take into account working in teams and managing and sharing leadership responsibilities. In New Zealand, for example, teaching standards call for appraising professional relationships and values and responsiveness to diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds.
The report found that the most common methods used to evaluate teachers include classroom observations, teacher portfolios, self-evaluations and performance goals set by the individual teacher in agreement with school management. Almost all countries use classroom observations to some degree. As the figure below shows, an average of over 70 percent of high school teachers reported that classroom observations were considered to be of “high or moderate importance” in the teacher evaluations or the feedback they received. However in using classroom observations as part of teacher evaluation, some experts advise avoiding announced classroom observations, because they do not provide an authentic experience of a teacher’s day-to-day practice.
In some countries, teachers must take tests to assess their general knowledge, but only two of the countries studied in the report, Mexico and Chile, use teacher tests to determine career advancement or dismissal. A few countries also use surveys of students and parents as one element of gauging teacher competence.
Speaking to a point that is very controversial, the report makes it quite clear that it is challenging to identify the specific contribution that a given teacher makes to a student’s performance. Student learning is largely influenced by student’s innate abilities, motivations and behaviors and the support students receive from their family, peer group and school. And students are influenced not only by their current teacher, but also by their former teachers. The report explains that while value-added models can control for a student’s previous results and have the potential to identify an individual teacher’s contribution to student performance, there is wide consensus in literature that these models should be used only in addition to other evaluation measures. The report also contends that using student results as an evaluation instrument is likely to be more relevant for whole-school evaluations than for individual teacher evaluations.
Delaware is featured in the report for their work on incorporating student outcomes into teacher evaluations. The state’s system calls for teachers to use three measures of student progress including performance on state tests, test results on an instrument other than the test used for state accountability and goals for student progress developed by the teacher. During the 2011-2012 school year, Delaware engaged hundreds of teachers in developing a wide-ranging library of resources that supports implementation of the new policy.
While there is no consensus on the right types of evaluation methods to use to evaluate teachers, the report makes it clear that using several methods is essential to drawing a comprehensive picture of teachers’ abilities. The Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) study, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is one of the most sophisticated analyses to-date on how evaluation methods can be used to identify the skills that make teachers effective. The findings stress that assigning equal weights to multiple measures creates a more accurate assessment of teacher effectiveness than other models in which one measure is given a greater weight over others.
Who Conducts Teacher Evaluations?
While this varies across countries, the most common bodies that conduct teacher evaluations include inspectorates, professional teacher organizations, unions, school leaders and peer teachers. The report recognizes the importance of using multiple evaluators to assess teacher performance to provide different perspectives. For example, while external, highly trained evaluators assess teacher performance as accurately as school heads or principals, school leaders have the benefit of being more aware of variables in the particular school context that may affect a teacher’s performance. On the other hand, some researchers have found that while principals may be able to successfully identify the high- and low-performers, they are unable to distinguish between teachers in the middle of the performance distribution. Regardless of who is conducting the evaluation, the report notes that, “the effectiveness of appraisals crucially depends on whether evaluators have the knowledge and skills to evaluate teachers reliably in relation to established criteria,” so it is very important that all evaluators receive proper training.
How Are Evaluation Results Used?
The results from teacher evaluation systems are used in a variety of ways including informing teacher practice; designing professional development opportunities that address teacher shortcomings; establishing rewards and consequences based on evaluation results; and developing lines of communication so the information gathered can inform education policy.
Results from a 2008 teacher survey found that over 40 percent of teachers reported that they did not receive suggestions for improving their practice after an evaluation and 44 percent agreed that teacher evaluations were conducted merely to fulfill an administrative requirement. During the webinar, Schleicher said that it is very important for teachers to see teacher evaluations as a basis for professional support and career development.
The report also found that of the countries studied, very few use teacher evaluations to reward high-performing teachers with salary increases. In the chart above, of the countries surveyed only Chile, Korea and Mexico have these types of policies in place. When countries do use teacher evaluation results to reward teachers, few provide teachers with career advancement opportunities. Because the organizational structure of schools in many OECD countries is typically flat, with few opportunities for teachers to be promoted or to gain increased responsibilities, the report recommends that education systems should look to high-performers such as Singapore for guidance in using teacher evaluation for career advancement. This city-state has established a robust appraisal system that is linked to defined career ladders. Singapore has created career structures at all school levels providing a teacher with the opportunity to advance to master teacher status or move into administration or research and policy. And as Singaporean teachers move up the career ladder, they are rewarded with higher compensation levels.
The report, Teachers for the 21st Century, is largely based on two prior OECD reports: the Review on Evaluation and Assessment Frameworks for Improving School Outcomes, a 2009 study that involved 24 countries and looked at the various components of evaluation and assessment strategies that countries use, and the latest edition of the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), published in 2008. To access the new report visit: