I’m having a rough go of it with these seventh graders, three quarters of whom are male. It is little solace that others teachers at my school are struggling with this grade as well, because these young people are missing out. If all my teaching looked like it does in the 7th grade, I probably shouldn’t be teaching, and an evaluator would be right in saying so.
But I’m not just a 7th grade Spanish teacher—I teach kindergarten through 8th grade. That’s why it’s so important that an observer would see my teaching at every grade level: kindergartners reading the daily message in Spanish; the 3rd graders interviewing each other and reporting the results in Spanish; the 6th graders competing to identify cognates to write on our cognate wall, or the 8th graders debating the merits of categorizing Hispanic/Latino as a race for the sake of census data and political unity.
In fact, all teachers should be evaluated based on multiple measures and multiple observations, even when they don’t span K1-8th grade. According to recent article about the Measures of Effective Teaching Project, a single observation score is largely driven by factors other than consistent aspects of a teacher’s practice. The article’s findings demonstrated that a single observation by a single rater was a poor indicator of a teacher’s typical practice, and that only when averaging four observations by four different raters did variation in scores based on teaching practice outweigh variation due to other, unexplained factors.
In other words, a single score is just as likely to be a fluke as it is to be based on accurate indicators of quality teaching. To be reliable, results require multiple observations of a teacher, ideally by multiple observers. This makes good sense, and comes as a relief to me as I think about an evaluator judging me on a single 7th grade class out of the twelve classes I teach.
For the state’s new evaluation regulations to reliably measure teacher quality will require a significant increase in the overall number of observations. Since administrators, many of whom are already overworked, can’t be expected to increase their load, the number of people who are trained and qualified to observe must increase.
A natural solution to the demand for more observers is Peer Assistance and Review (PAR), where coaches chosen on the basis of their excellent teaching and mentoring support a combination of 10-15 new teachers and veterans who need support. Because all educators, not just new and struggling teachers, benefit from collaborative analysis of their practice, PAR would work well alongside a peer observation program such as Collaborative Coaching and Learning (CCL), which we are using at the BTU Pilot School this year.
PAR is a marked improvement on the current observation and evaluation model in the following ways:
- More intensive mentoring increases retention long-term, but also ensures that all teachers receiving professional status are in fact proficient or exemplary.
- Observations from coaches who have expertise in teachers’ grade level and subject matter can be conducted more frequently.
- The partnership between the union and the district is strengthened, with the teachers union president and the director of human resources generally serving as panel co-chairs for the PAR review board.
- PAR results in the development of more teacher/leaders.
- PAR helps to create a professional culture committed to collaborating, reflecting and instructional improvement.
If you’re not yet sold on PAR and the need more observations of your teaching, think back to your own recent evaluations (or lack thereof). I would certainly want someone to see the range of my teaching from K1-8 before evaluating me. Still, the 7th grade outlier should not be overlooked despite the quality of my overall teaching. And so, I am seeking ways to hone my practice so that the 7th grade class has the productivity, content understanding and instructional dialogue of the other grades, because all of my students need and deserve an excellent education.