Teacher Evaluations- The Chicago Approach

In an era where the stakes are high and many districts are considering linking evaluations to merit, it is important that these evaluations are accurate and that observers are properly trained.  A recent study from the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, called Rethinking Teacher Evaluation in Chicago, found that teachers in Chicago with the highest principal observation ratings were the same teachers whose students showed the greatest gains in learning. This correlation suggests that principals in Chicago are able to “distinguish between strong and weak teaching” to “capture factors that matter for student learning”(Chicago Teacher Evaluation Pilot Shows Promise for Fairly, Accurately Evaluation Teachers).

So how are these principals in Chicago able to be so spot on with their evaluations?  According to the study, their secret weapon is the Chicago’s Excellence in Teaching program, which was piloted in 44 schools in 2008 and has since expanded (Urban Education Institute, 2011). This program uses the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching as its model. The elements observed in Framework for Teaching observations are much more exhaustive than those found on your average check sheet. Below are the four domains upon which Framework for Teaching observations are based: (Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching)

Domain 1: Planning and Preparation
  • Demonstrating Knowledge of Conten and Pedagogy Demonstrating
  • Knowledge of Students
  • Setting Instructional Outcomes
  • Demonstrating Knowledge of Resources
  • Designing Coherent Instruction
  • Designing Student Assessments
Domain 2: The Classroom Environment
  • Creating an Environment of Respect and Rapport
  • Establishing a Culture for Learning
  • Managing Classroom Procedures
  • Managing Student Behavior
  • Organizing Physical Space
Domain 3: Instruction
  • Communicating with Students
  • Using Questioning and Discussion
  • Techniques
  • Engaging Students in Learning
  • Using Assessment in Instruction
  • Demonstrating Flexibility and Responsiveness
Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities
  • Reflecting on Teaching
  • Maintaining Accurate Records
  • Communicating with Families
  • Participating in a Professional
  • Community
  • Growing and Developing Professionally
  • Showing Professionalism

Some of the study’s findings include:

1. Students with the greatest growth on test scores were in classrooms where teachers received the highest ratings on their Framework for Teaching evaluations. Conversely, students who showed the least growth were in classrooms where teachers received the lowest ratings.

2. Principals and trained observers gave consistent ratings (based on watching the same teacher conduct the same lesson). This evidence of fairness might be something for other districts to consider when using classroom observations to make hiring, firing and promotion decisions.

3. Conferences between teachers and principals became more thoughtful and less subjective than in the past. The conversations were centered on instructional practice.

4. More than half of the principals were positive about the Framework for Teaching approach, follow-up conferences, and the professional development that they received.

5. Overall, 72% of principal ratings were found to be consistent and fair. The other 28% were either too high or too low.

6. Although principals and teachers were generally positive about the evaluation system and conferences, many principals were not equipped to have deep discussions about teaching practice.

“These findings have important policy implications for states and districts across the country working to implement evaluation systems that include classroom observations” (Urban Education Institute, 2011). This pilot program is not perfect, but it does give principals a better eye for what works in the classroom and gives teachers a clearer definition of “effective teaching” while providing them with “feedback on how they stack up on those criteria.” 

Chicago’s Excellence in Teaching program is still a work in progress, with an obvious need for more professional development and ongoing support for principals and teachers. However, it is a huge forward step for other districts to possibly consider as a model. According to the Illinois State Superintendent, Christopher A. Koch, “This study shows that we’re moving in the right direction” and “shows the observation methods we’re moving toward are valid and reliable measures of solid teaching.”

–M. Newport

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