Assess the teacher, not the students

*Disclaimer: 1) I know this is a touchy subject, I’m only trying to add to the dialogue. 2) I proofread with my son in the room, so was distracted, but wanted to get this “out there”. :)

There has obviously been a lot of discussion in both traditional media and the edublogosphere about assessing teacher quality.  Most of the assessment schemes have come from outside education and most educators seem to have spent their time criticizing these schemes.  Instead of criticizing, I want to invest in a dialogue (not give an absolute answer) about how teacher quality might be usefully assessed.  While I would support paying “better” teachers more, the point of this post is only to brainstorm a way to assess teacher quality, not how, or if, teachers should be paid more based on these assessments (even if “better” teachers did get paid more, the amount would probably be insulting).

First, I believe we have to face what I believe to be an honest truth.  Some teachers are better than others and some teachers do work harder than others.  Right now, there are very few avenues for more talented or more hard-working teachers to be rewarded.  Yes, teaching itself is a reward and, as educators, we all know intrinsic motivation is far superior to extrinsic motivation, yet we all have an ego.  We all appreciate being recognized for our talents and efforts.  Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough awards, edublog or otherwise :), to go around.

So how do we know if a teacher is of “high quality”?  I don’t think we need to compare teachers to each other, but I think there may be value in identifying what makes a “good” teacher.  While we might claim good teaching is like pornography (we know it when we see it), being able to articulate what constitutes good teaching is important.  Once we can accurately describe “good teaching” we can begin to help those teachers who are not there yet to improve.  Once we can articulate “good teaching” we can reward those teachers who have the talent and/or have put in the hard work of becoming “good”.

Importantly, looking at student test scores is not the way to assess teacher quality.  Different classes have different students, different tests produce different results, students will test differently on different days, etc.  Instead we should be looking at what teachers do.  When a medical doctor/surgeon is assessed they are not assessed based solely on patient survival rates.  If so, very few doctors would likely enter specialties with high mortality rates.  The doctor is not solely judged against whether a patient gets better, but if the doctor took the appropriate steps in treatment.  So, we should be looking at teachers in the act of teaching. That is, to what extent is the teacher taking appropriate steps to promote student learning.  Teachers cannot force students to learn, but they can promote/encourage student learning.

So, if teachers might be more accurately assessed by what they DO in a classroom, what things would we expect to see high quality teachers doing?  What things would we see them not doing?

I’ll share my ideas in a separate post, but the teacher in me wants to know what you think first. :)

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18 Responses to Assess the teacher, not the students

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Assess the teacher, not the students « Teaching as a dynamic activity --

  2. Ira Socol says:

    This is a problem in every profession. After all, doctors really don’t get differential pay based on competence or skill but on which specialty they have chosen. And in the US this system is horrifically broken – with many of the very best, and most important, doctors – those working to preserve their patients health – receiving the lowest overall compensation.

    And, well, we always complained – those of us who worked “A Houses” (high crime precincts) during the 80s/90s in the NYPD, that maybe we deserved more than those cops chatting up the girls in Rockefeller Center. And there my partner and I were, leading the precinct in handling 911 calls, making top quality arrests, trusted absolutely by our bosses. But we didn’t get a dime more in pay (or any other real benefits) than the laziest guy in the precinct.

    So, what to do?

    You’ve laid out the right basis for assessing teachers. Which is also the right basis for assessing students… observation and analysis, not tests. But after that, we need real, in-place plans to help all teachers get better as we need in-place plans to help all students, and we need effective reward systems – not pay and not token economies, but demonstrations of respect, and support for continued learning.


  3. Mary Beth Hertz says:

    I’m glad you took the time, Jerrid, to get these thoughts “out there.” It’s hard for us to say that some of our colleagues are not strong teachers, but there is truth to the statement that we can tell good teaching from poor teaching. We can also tell a teacher who just needs some support and time to grow into a good teacher from someone who resists change and thereby growth.

    I think that teachers need to be evaluated by their peers on, as you state, what teachers do in the classroom. They also need to be evaluated by more than one person, as each person sees a different part of a person and their practice. Just as we would not want to evaluate our students on a series of tests, but rather on what they do in the classroom on a daily basis, we should do the same for teachers, as Ira suggests.

    It would be nice to know that the extra mile that many of us take as well as our success in the classroom could earn us the respect and the compensation that we deserve.


    • jerridkruse says:

      Perhaps the respect is given by “promoting” you to a teacher who helps assess and provide feedback to other teachers. That doesn’t mean the promoted teachers are no longer assessed. I see this kind of like the tenure process in higher ed. Tenure is decided on by peers rather than only admin. I think this “peer review” process can help promote a culture of high expectations and continual learning rather than an artificially constructed expectation set by administration. That said, there are some issues with the tenure process, as there are will all processes.


  4. Russ Goerend says:

    OK, so what should we expect to see teachers doing and what should we hope to not see them doing?

    I’ll just tell you my goals as a teacher and you’re welcome to decide on which side they fall.

    I work to help students become responsible instead of compliant. One example is that on our current long-range (~a month) project, they set up their own calendars, including their own due date during a one-week window, noting what they would be doing in class each day — and at home if needed. They were encouraged to write in pencil so they could easily change it in case their calendars if something took longer or shorter than they thought. For example, most students took at least a day to create research questions at the beginning, then a few days researching answers to those questions. After that — what we in 6th grade would consider the “uphill struggle” many students took a “day off” meaning they spent class time reading and writing on other subjects. (I believe Google would call this “20% time.) They then spent time in and out of class working on presentations then decided which day they would present and it was their job to “sell” their presentation to their classmates to get an audience. Instead of presenting to the whole class, 4-5 students per day will be presenting to small audiences who are interested in the topic being presented.

    Contrast that with what I did last year: “here’s the schedule and the turn-in dates. You’ll see that I’ve noted what you’re doing on each day. I’ll draw randomly the last week of January so be ready to present to the whole class when I call your name.” (Note: slight exaggeration, but you get the idea.)

    My students read at least 20 minutes (our of 42) in class each day. Dr. Richard Allington advocates for students reading for 90 minutes each day (home + school) so I try to do my part. While they are reading I am conversing with as many students as possible while recording the conversations as artifacts of their learning. These conversations are part of the formative assessment cycle where students are reflecting on their reading and I’m adjusting what I’ll be teaching during mini-lessons. (That’s the goal at least. I’m not where I want to be yet.) Once every two weeks-ish I read with them during independent reading time to model that I’m a reader as well (and really, with an 11-month-old at home, I need to take advantage of all the opportunities to read that I can.)

    Last year, students read a lot but I can tell the difference in my attitude toward their reading. I was always nervous if someone would come in while they were all reading. This was because they were *just* reading. Now, I’m not a fan of always “doing something” with what you’ve read. I don’t have my kids do an exit card every day, etc. But conferencing with students about reading was an event last year, not part of the routine. I didn’t use the conferences to form small groups or address common concerns.

    That’s obviously not everything I do as a teacher, but there’s a good chance that’s what you’d see if you came into my classroom. Students working on self-directed writing projects incorporating writing standards and reading either independently or with books clubs. Again, generally speaking.


    • jerridkruse says:

      I’ve been to your class so know that you do, in fact, do these things. However, an untrained eye might think you are simply letting the kids do instead of “teaching”. This is why the peer evaluation (teachers evaluating teachers) Mary mentioned would be so important!


      • Russ Goerend says:

        Good point. That’s also a reason why (the one thing I forgot in my comment) I think what we need is to “assess the teacher and the students.

        Also, to pull in a bit from what we talked about on Twitter, teachers “evaluating” teachers is another reason to stay as far away from $$ as the “reward” as possible. Learning to get better should be the only “string” attached the “evaluations.”


  5. Jane Jackson says:

    You ask what high quality teachers do and don’t do.

    Stigler and Hiebert provide answers in their 1999 book called THE TEACHING GAP, and in their later publications.

    I quote Stigler and Hiebert (in a later publication, referenced below):
    “… we launched the TIMSS 1999 Video Study, the largest and most ambitious international comparison of teaching conducted to date. Random, nationally representative samples of 8th-grade lessons in mathematics and science were videotaped in a number of countries in Asia and Europe that achieve well on international comparisons.”

    Teachers in the United States, when working on conceptual problems with students, “almost always stepped in and did the work for the students or ignored the conceptual aspect of the problem when discussing it. Teachers in high-achieving countries … implemented a similar percentage of problems (about 50%) in such a way that students studied the connections or relationships embedded in the problems. Compared with their international peers, 8th graders in the United States almost never got the chance (less than 1% of the time) to explore and discuss mathematical relationships while solving these problems.”

    “In summary, the findings of the TIMSS 1999 Video Study … suggest that some time should be devoted to practicing skills and some time devoted to developing understanding. U.S. teachers already provide practice on skills. This now needs to be balanced with solving challenging problems and discussing the relationships that can be constructed among the mathematical facts, procedures, and ideas. When working on these problems, teachers must learn how to avoid stepping in and giving the answers, and instead provide students with opportunities to think more deeply about mathematical concepts and then discuss these concepts or relationships with the students.”

    The quote is from:
    National Staff Development Council:
    Journal of Staff Development, Fall 2004 Vol. 25, No.4. “A world of difference: Classrooms abroad provide lessons in teaching math and science. The TIMSS 1999 Video Study pinpoints key similarities among high-achieving countries such as Hong Kong, Japan, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Czech Republic.” by James Hiebert and James W. Stigler
    Copyright, National Staff Development Council, 2004.


    • jerridkruse says:

      Thanks for your comment Jane. The TIMSS study is an important study because it did look at the teacher instead of just test scores. Not answering students’ question is a difficult thing to do. In the US culture, students expect teachers to be the bearers of all knowledge. Challenging this view is difficult but necessary so that our students become autonomous learners able to solve their own problems and think critically for themselves.


  6. Akil Bello says:

    Thanks for this post. I’ve said, tweeted, blogged, thought, and screamed at the trees that way too much of the educational conversation is about shooting down what someone doesn’t agree with rather than making constructive suggestions and presenting alternative plans. Thanks for your thoughts. I think you’ve presented great arguments here.

    I agree that teachers cant be evaluated solely on the basis of tests scores. I’ve taught standardized test for 20 years and its hysterical to me the number of times I’ve been not rehired .. fired.. because the students did not improve as much on tests as the school hoped. However, I also think that objective measures of student achievement are necessary. I find it hard to believe that a student who has learned how to do what was taught would fall apart because a question is presented on a test. If that is the case it does speak to something a teacher is doing in the classroom, I’m not sure what that something is or how to fix it but if you can do addition while sitting alone at your desk in class than you should be able to do the same addition when its presented in a test setting.

    I think the testing argument needs to shift to “are statewide tests developed inline with curriculum?” and “are the scores used correctly?” and “is the scoring system transparent and useful for additional learning?” If the three things above are true I dont think testing would be a problem (except for maybe the volume of it)…. ahhh education such a thorny issue

    again thanks for your post and your willingness to reply to all commenters.


    • jerridkruse says:

      Thanks Akil. I think you are right, there is a place for some sort of student assessment, but I think we need to focus on transparency rather than objectivity (transparency is achievable, objectivity is not). Also, you raise an important point about how scores are used. The test isn’t so much the problem as is the inability to use the scores for meaningful improvement of instruction. Toward this end, we might need a different kind of test than multiple choice. Right now, MC is the standard because of perceived objectivity. If we can give up that falsehood, we might be able to construct more useful assessments.


      • Jane Jackson says:

        In reply:
        You asked, “So how do we know if a teacher is of “high quality”?” and you wrote “… we might need a different kind of test than multiple choice [to use the scores for meaningful improvement of instruction].”

        I am Co-Director of the Modeling Instruction Program at Arizona State University ( We are a grassroots effort of science teachers that provides research-informed professional development for high school physics, chemistry, and physical science teachers nationwide. Each summer almost 50 Modeling Workshops are offered, of typical duration two weeks, in 25 or so states. See

        To measure teacher effectiveness (i.e., quality), we use research-validated concept inventories, for example the Force Concept Inventory (FCI), a 30-question multiple choice instrument. Teachers give them as pre-tests and post-tests. By looking at student choices on individual questions, a teacher can tell where they need to improve their instruction. You can read about the FCI at

        A research-validated OBSERVATION instrument to evaluate teacher quality in K-16 science and math is the RTOP: Reform Teaching Observation Protocol. It correlates well with the FCI and other concept inventories.

        We encourage teachers to use the RTOP self-assessment to monitor what they do in the classroom. It would be good if principals used the RTOP in their yearly observation of teachers.

        I quote from the RTOP Reference Manual:
        “The Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol (RTOP) was created by the Evaluation Facilitation Group of the Arizona Collaborative for Excellence in the Preparation of Teachers (ACEPT). It is an
        observational instrument designed to measure “reformed” teaching.

        The RTOP was designed to capture the current reform movement, and especially those characteristics that define “reformed teaching.” To do that, the authors of the RTOP relied heavily upon research in mathematics and science education and on the new national standards.

        The Reform Teaching Observation Protocol (RTOP) has proven highly worthwhile in the study of mathematics and science classrooms in middle and high schools, colleges and universities. With appropriate training, it is possible to achieve very high inter-rater reliabilities using this instrument. RTOP
        scores predict improved student learning in mathematics and science classrooms at all levels.

        Analysis of the RTOP suggests that it is largely a uni-factorial instrument that taps a single construct of inquiry. A finer-scale analysis lends new meaning to the phrases “pedagogical content knowledge” and “community of learners.” The instrument seems amply able to measure what it purports to measure: reformed teaching. ”

        These four weblinks to the RTOP are at .
        * Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol (RTOP) evaluation instrument, its history, research, & results.
        * RTOP Self-Assessment (A guide for science and math teachers to reflect upon their teaching. An adaptation of the RTOP by Drew Isola, a high school teacher)
        * RTOP online training
        * RTOP videos in streaming format


        • Jane Jackson says:

          I just re-read my reply, and I see a few typos.

          * The typical duration of a Modeling Workshop is THREE weeks (although some introductory workshops are as few as five days).
          * The RTOP is the REFORMED Teaching Observation Protocol.


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