Federal and state policies such as the US Department of Education’s Race to the Top state grant competition and Illinois’ Performance Evaluation Act of 2010, which prioritize building effective principal and teacher evaluations systems to improve student achievement outcomes, have ratcheted up the need for data-driven teacher evaluation in Illinois. This renewed attention on improving student achievement outcomes has the education sector exploring innovative tools to use for evaluation.
Chicago Public Schools’ Excellence in Teaching program, led by Education Pioneers Alumna Sheri Frost Leo (’05 Boston) is one example of an innovative teacher evaluation program that is receiving significant attention.
The Excellence in Teaching program currently is underway in 100 Chicago schools. It seeks to transform teacher effectiveness through a robust evaluation tool that measures teacher practice and student growth, and provides meaningful feedback to teachers. According to Frost Leo, this is an “opportunity to redesign the teacher evaluation from the bottom and end up with a comprehensive, nuanced system… [and] a more complete picture of what it means to be effective.”
In the past, principals evaluated teachers once or twice a year using a checklist that subjectively rated the teachers from superior to unsatisfactory. Currently, only 0.3 percent of teachers are rated unsatisfactory under the checklist system—far fewer than student achievement data would suggest.
The new tool, based on the Charlotte Danielson Framework, aims to define what effective teaching means, and provide a common language to enhance feedback and helpful discussion between principals and teachers. Ultimately, the tool should promote teacher development and increase impact on student learning.
Thus far, the Excellence in Teaching program has received national attention both from policy makers as well as from media such as the New York Times. It is considered to be at the forefront of education reform. But like any innovative idea, one must ask: does it work?
Researchers at the Consortium on Chicago School Research, in partnership with Chicago Public Schools and with support of The Joyce Foundation, are working to understand and examine Excellence in Teaching to answer that question.
Through a formative and summative evaluation, researchers are investigating the reliability and validity of the program Framework, how principals and teachers perceive the new evaluation process and rubric, and how well the new tool is achieving its stated goals of promoting meaningful discussion on teacher effectiveness and advancing teacher development to enhance student learning.
“We need to know [if] this works” explained Education Pioneers Alumna Claire Durwood (’09 Chicago), a researcher at Consortium on Chicago School Research. “Few researchers have evaluated the effectiveness of the framework as a tool to review teacher effectiveness on a large scale.”
Over the next few years, Durwood will work with a team of researchers to observe principals as they conduct evaluations of teachers, examine school leaders’ perceptions of the evaluation process, and analyze student achievement data.
While the data from the study is not yet conclusive, leaders at Chicago Public Schools have already used the results from the first year of evaluation (PDF) to impact the implementation of the program.
Evaluating the Excellence in Teaching pilot program does have its challenges. According to Durwood, the biggest struggles researchers face are proving exactly what part of the program works, ensuring the correct implementation method for various stakeholders and making a fair and accurate connection between teacher performance and student achievement outcomes.
In the end, the study will not only inform Chicago Public Schools on the program’s effectiveness, it also will provide the education sector with a detailed understanding of how this initiative contributes to teacher quality, retention and effectiveness. If proven successful, the tool has the potential to alter teaching and prioritize the role of evaluation in the education.
The success of the Excellence in Teaching program can make teacher evaluations a central part of education. “Evaluations will move from being a punctuation mark in teacher’s jobs to a pillar,” Durwood hypothesized.
Moreover, the long-term implication of the work here in Chicago will be that teachers consider evaluation not only as a tool to help their effectiveness in the classroom, but also as a tool to help school leaders identify the support teachers need to succeed. Informing the nation’s education sector on the reliability of an innovative idea could, as Durwood observed, “change the lives of teachers, students, and communities around the nation.”
Chicago Program Associate