A recent article in The Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, examined Teacher Performance Appraisals in Ontario, and found that they had little impact on  teaching practice.

Results of a study of  178 administrators using the Ontario provincial TPA showed that “Most administrators did not feel strongly that the classroom observations adequately assessed teacher practice and most did not feel that there had been substantial improvement in teacher practice in their schools as a result of the process.” Quoting US research studies on the quality of instruction, this article points out that the evidence indicates that having above average teachers for a sustained period of time can overcome the achievement gap, and that every day that children are subjected to ineffective or mediocre teachers allows the gap to widen.  The article goes on to quote a March 2010 Newsweek cover story stating “Nothing, then, is more important than hiring good teachers and firing bad ones”, but concluding that “within the confines of current collective bargaining agreements, the vast majority of teachers are not candidates for dismissal”  and point out that in a climate of declining enrolment, vacancies are occurring less frequently and “while more effective hiring and firing practices may increase average teacher effectiveness over time, it fails to address the majority of teachers who are currently in classrooms.”

 

As a preamble to the results of the study, several US studies are noted:

Peterson’s (2000) extensive literature review of over 70 years of empirical research on teacher evaluation concluded: “Seventy years of empirical research on teacher evaluation shows that current practices do not improve teachers or accurately tell what happens in classrooms. . . . Well designed empirical studies depict principals as inaccurate raters both of individual teacher performance behaviours and of overall teacher merit” (pp. 18–19).

 

Another study with 293 teachers found that teachers “feel that current appraisal techniques fall short of collecting information that accurately characterizes their performance”, and in 2011 Olden noted “ teacher evaluation in the United States is generally of low quality yet consumes a great deal of time for both teachers and administrators. Furthermore, it is rarely used for anything other than terminating the worst performers and compliance with government regulations and is therefore not strategic”.

 

The results of the Gates MET 2012  study were cited where “Evidence indicates that different administrators can give quite different ratings when viewing the same lesson”, and the Barnett study in 2006 which found that “many teachers feel that their evaluations are based more on the nature of their relationship with their administrator, as opposed to their actual teaching practice”.

 

So with the background of research in American literature indicating “that neither teachers nor administrators seem to receive much benefit from the process, despite it consuming large quantities of time and resulting in considerable stress. The impact on teaching practice appears to be negligible and often results in negative feelings among teachers as they do not feel that their evaluations are objective or accurate.”, the article relates the findings of the Ontario study.

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The Flag of Ontario, Canada

The study (conducted with the support of the Ontario Principals’ Council) focused on a single question: What are administrators’ perceptions regarding the effectiveness of the TPA process in assessing and improving teacher practice?

 

Some of the findings (taken directly from the study) were as follows:

1)    Administrators noted that in addition to lacking instruction in how to accurately assess and evaluate teachers, there was also very little training in how to deal with unsatisfactory TPAs. A possible reason given for this is that administrators are being discouraged from giving unsatisfactory TPAs, which would seem to undermine their ability to fulfill the competency objective of teacher evaluations.

2)    Many administrators felt that the pre-planned nature of the classroom observations did not allow for an accurate and thorough assessment of a teacher’s regular teaching practice. As one administrator put it, “observing a single class does not give a very thorough picture of a teacher’s practice. A teacher can always put on a good show.”

3)    Interestingly, many administrators also reported utilizing sources of information outside of those strictly dictated by the current TPA process. This included informal visits to the teacher’s classes throughout the year (which many administrators mentioned).

4)    Almost all administrators reported rarely having to deal with teachers disagreeing with their assessment with 97% reporting that this happened only once in a while or never. Based on the comments provided, it appears that the only time administrators had teacher disagree with their assessment was when they were given an unsatisfactory rating, which does not appear to happen very often.

5)    Most administrators stated that they embraced the evaluation role as part of their job and that in fact it has often enhanced their relations with their teaching staff. Many viewed it as an opportunity to provide coaching and mentorship and to build better relationships with their teachers.

6)    Many felt that the TPA process is only as good as the administrator conducting it. Others noted that the process is good at highlighting the work of great teachers but not at addressing mediocre ones, partly as a result of union involvement. Still others felt the process was too contrived and artificial to be of use.

7)    In terms of professional growth, most administrators felt there had not been substantial improvement of teacher practice in their schools as a result of the TPA process. Just 9% indicated that teacher practice had improved a substantial amount.

8)    Most administrators appeared not to view the TPA process as a major vehicle for improving teacher practice. Instead, many indicated that improvements in teacher practice were the result of ongoing professional development in the school during PLC time, PD days, staff meetings, and coaching and mentoring amongst administrators and staff.

9)    In terms of improving the TPA process, the most common suggestion from administrators was to have more classroom observations. In the eyes of most administrators, assessing the effectiveness of a teacher based on a single, pre-planned classroom observation is inadequate. Thus the TPA should include multiple classroom observations, some of which are unannounced. This would provide administrators with a more accurate picture of a teacher practice and would thus allow for more meaningful assessment and feedback.  Therefore, it is recommended that there be more regular follow up with all teachers, regardless of current performance, to ensure that they are taking steps to improve their teaching practice based on the recommendations of their last TPA. Having this regular follow up will ensure that teachers are taking the steps to improve their practice based on the recommendation that administrators spend hours each year carefully crafting.

10)  Another option is to incorporate feedback from students. Students spend hundreds of hours with their teachers every year and so probably have the most complete picture of the teaching practice and effectiveness of those teachers. With student evaluations of instructors being commonplace in university and college classrooms across the country, there is no reason why this could not also happen in our K–12 system as well. While some teachers may worry that students will simply give the “easy” teachers higher scores and the “hard” teachers lower ones, large scale studies on student surveys of teacher performance show that this is not the case when students are asked the right questions (see Gates Foundation, 2010, p. 5). Indeed, the evidence shows that when students report positive classroom experiences, these classrooms tend to achieve greater learning gains, and other classrooms taught by the same teacher do so as well (Gates Foundation, 2010). And student surveys tend to be consistent and reliable across different classes and school years. Student surveys can also provide a rich source of descriptive feedback that teachers can use to aid in their own professional growth.

 

However the one statement in this article that really got my attention was:

 

once a teacher achieves the satisfactory rating, the TPA is not used for future personnel decisions. As one administrator put it,

                         I think this speaks to the fact that as long as you are given a satisfactory appraisal, teachers are satisfied. They understand that it matters little. TPAs are never even mentioned when a candidate is applying for a new job with a new school and administrators are looking for a reference. I have never seen a question that asks “How was their last TPA?”

 

And the author’s conclusion:

This would appear to undermine the competency objective of teacher evaluations

 

The complete article is available at:

http://www.umanitoba.ca/publications/cjeap/pdf_files/maharaj.pdf