Deciding on a New Teacher Evaluation Instrument

There is an old saying that you can’t improve what you don’t measure.

Sometime in the next few weeks, New Jersey’s school boards will be asked to approve – in consultation with their superintendent – a new teacher evaluation instrument, as required by the TEACH NJ law that was passed last summer.

In choosing an evaluation tool, board members will have a direct influence on the level of instruction in their district. If done well, measuring performance can lead to improving it. There is no more important item on your board’s agenda.

Let me assure you that I’ve seen first-hand how changing a teacher evaluation instrument can help impact student achievement.   

About ten years ago, as a district superintendent, I felt the need to revamp the district’s teacher evaluation system, which I thought was vague and lacked substance. I created a committee that included teachers, board members and administrators to devise a new evaluation tool. We used the research of a nationally-known expert for the focus of our change efforts.  The committee worked for nearly a year, and the result was a more defined instrument that raised the bar in terms of teacher accountability. In the new system, principals were able to identify direct evidence of student learning.  That focus resulted in greater student achievement.

However, a key to success was the participation of the teachers in the entire process.  The majority of the committee members were teachers. That strategy paid off.  Their input was valuable, and their sense of “ownership” of the new evaluation system ensured widespread acceptance among the other faculty members.

One question board members should ask their administrators: what will you do after the evaluation to follow up with professional development?  Evaluating teachers only gets half the job done; districts also need to provide training so teachers can improve.  Imagine the power unleashed by enabling all educators to upgrade their performance, even a bit, every year.

Make no mistake, organizational change is never easy. There will be resistance, confusion and missteps along the way, as there is with anything new.

But I’d remind board members: as you sit down to study your superintendent’s recommendations on a new teacher evaluation system, never doubt that measuring something can lead to improving it.

These are my Reflections. I look forward to hearing yours.  Post your comments below, or contact me at [email protected].