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Virginia Journal of Education

Why Teacher Evaluation Must Be Done Right

By Dr. Kitty Boitnott

Teacher evaluation is a hot topic everywhere—everyone “in the know” has decided that the way we’ve been doing it is lacking and that something needs to be done. Frankly, I didn’t disagree. Let’s face it: Up until a few years ago, at least, teacher evaluations were pretty meaningless, at least in my own experience.

When I started teaching in the mid-1970s, we had no federal or even state mandates on how teacher evaluations were done. Each school division chose its own method, and doing the evaluations was up to the principals and assistant principals in charge.

As a first-year teacher and librarian in my tiny school in Franklin County, I had no assistant principal. My principal was a nice enough fellow, but he didn’t have a clue about what my job entailed or how I went about doing it. I learned just how much he didn’t know when we sat down together to conduct my first full review.

To make matters worse, he immediately adopted a smug and patronizing attitude, which put me on guard, but I was a brash young thing back then (now I am just a brash old thing, I guess). When he suggested that he thought my level of communication and cooperation with faculty members during my first year on the job had been lacking, I quickly questioned his assessment and asked for his rationale.

Apparently, he wasn’t used to being asked that kind of question, because at that moment, his communication skills seemed to go down the tubes. He stuttered, he stammered, and in the end, he asked me, “So, Ms. Boitnott, how are you communicating and collaborating with teachers on staff?”

I told him gladly and in great detail about how I had been meeting with teachers at each grade level in an effort to meet their curriculum needs. I recounted for him the efforts made with a book vendor that had made it possible for me to acquire, at a deep discount, an updated set of Encyclopedia Britannicas. The set we had was dated 1962 (this was 1976). I told him how I had collaborated with the third grade teacher on a special project and, as far as I could tell, I’d been able to establish meaningful and productive relationships with every member of the staff. I added that if that wasn’t the case, I sure would appreciate him telling me with whom I needed to repair any problem, because it was my intention to have meaningful and collegial relationships with every teacher in the school.

He sat silent for a moment or two, and then, while I watched, changed the rating on my evaluation from a 2 (“needs improvement”) to 5 (“exceeds expectations”).

Why am I sharing this? Because it’s far too typical, I believe, of what so many of us have been subjected to over the years.

Ten years later, I was evaluated by a principal who gave me a glowing review. He apparently thought I was pretty awesome. He didn’t have a single criticism—constructive or otherwise—to offer, and at the end of the interview, we had digressed from talking about my performance to talking about things he cared much more about—his family, his new car, his future plans, etc.

What was so ironic about that experience was that he gave me such a glowing evaluation but had not observed me with children a single time that year. Not once! Oh, he had been in my library plenty of times—but never when I had a class. If he saw me interacting with children at all, it was by happenstance, perhaps in the hall or in the cafeteria. But he knew nothing about my teaching skills that year by direct observation. Of course, I didn’t complain about the evaluation. Why would I? I got a glowing review, whether it was earned or not.

Hopefully the new evaluation model adopted by the Virginia Board of Education will fix problems like these. I certainly hope so, because I happen to believe that meaningful evaluation is important to an individual’s growth as a professional, and considering myself professional has been a point of pride during my entire career. That’s why I went for and achieved National Board Certification.
But if the new system is going to achieve the goals its proponents claim it will, we’re going to have to hold our school divisions and our state department accountable for the level and quality of the training that our principals and teachers receive. We’ve been told many times that this new system is not supposed to feel like a “gotcha” system. I hope that will play out to be true. Meaningful evaluation should be part of what we undertake on a regular basis. Constructive feedback—even criticism when offered in a spirit of good will—is helpful to everyone, I believe. It remains to be seen if this new model will achieve that goal. It will be up to us, however, to hold our administrators accountable to the process in the same way that they hold us accountable in our classrooms. In the end, it’s our students who will gain or lose, so the stakes are too high for us not to get it right this time.

Dr. Boitnott is president of the Virginia Education Association.



What’s Coming

Beginning with the 2012-13 school year, teachers in Virginia will be evaluated under a new system. That system may look a little different from locality to locality, but must include two components: It must be based on the seven standards below, called the Virginia Standards for the Professional Practice of Teachers; and it must incorporate measures of “student academic progress.”
The Standards:

1. Professional Knowledge:
The teacher demonstrates an understanding of the curriculum, subject content, and the developmental needs of students by providing relevant learning experiences.

2. Instructional Planning: The teacher plans using the Virginia Standards of Learning, the school’s curriculum, effective strategies, resources and data to meet the needs of all students.

3. Instructional Delivery: The teacher effectively engages students in learning by using a variety of instructional strategies that meet students’ differentiated learning needs.

4. Assessment of/for Learning: The teacher systematically gathers, analyzes, and uses data to measure student progress, guide instructional content and delivery methods, and provides timely feedback to both students and parents.

5. Learning Environment: The teacher uses resources, routines, and procedures to provide a respectful, positive, safe, student-centered environment that is conducive to learning.

6. Professionalism: The teacher maintains a commitment to professional ethics, taking responsibility for and participating in professional growth that results in enhanced student learning.

7. Student Progress: The work of the teacher results in acceptable and measurable student progress.

 The implementation of “student academic progress” is a bit more difficult to get a handle on, as the state has not spelled out exactly how that is to be measured and the exact role it will play in individual teacher evaluations. The state has, however, recommended that it count for 40 percent of the evaluation, although localities are not currently required to follow that recommendation.
For more information, contact your local UniServ office or check out the Virginia Department of Education’s website at
--Tom Allen


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