Minneapolis teacher on what works, what doesn’t in teacher evaluation

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Minneapolis Public Schools teacher Caroline Hooper is not against teacher evaluations. She wants the feedback and opportunities for growth that an evaluation process can bring about. However, she wants the evaluations to be used as a “tool,” and not a “hoop” that must be jumped through.

At Minneapolis’ Southwest High School, where Hooper teaches AP Government and in a college readiness program called AVID, she describes what she sees as the logistical nightmare of the new teacher evaluation system implemented in the 2012-13 school year. At Southwest, there are 125 teachers and four administrators. Each principal is responsible for evaluating thirty teachers. Each teacher is evaluated four times during the school year. A “teacher on special assignment” at Southwest helps complete teacher assessments and the paperwork that goes along with them.

Reflecting on her sixteen years of teaching, Hooper draws a distinction between evaluations, which she feels are designed to simply measure and assess her performance, and observations, which she believes provide more immediate feedback and direction for improvement. In her first year of teaching, at Minneapolis’ Roosevelt High School, Hooper recalls frequent short observations of her work, and remembers the direct feedback they provided as being “very helpful.”

In contrast, Hooper considers last year’s evaluations to be “not very meaningful” in terms of helping her with her practice as a teacher. As Hooper puts it, an “evaluation is just that, an evaluation.” Hooper would prefer a more comprehensive look at her work as a teacher, and, as she sees it, this would also have to include such things as her students’ work.

Hooper believes that, “More frequent short observations provide a more balanced and fair assessment of (a) classroom.” She also feels that frequent “unannounced observations” offer a clearer picture of a teacher’s work because “…one or two drop-ins may not reflect what happens on a day-to-day basis.” In her opinion, this method allows principals to more frequently visit a teacher’s classroom and “catch them in the act,” so to speak, of teaching and managing their students.

In Hooper’s mind, principals should be “instructional leaders” maintaining a casual but consistent presence in the hallways and classrooms of a school, and the short observation format may accommodate this better than the more formal evaluations required by the Minneapolis school district. Additionally, the purpose of evaluations—which Hooper feels should be used as tools for professional development–can get lost in the fact that all 125 teachers at Southwest must be evaluated four times a year.

The demands of the new schedule have meant, in Hooper’s experience, that each administrator is doing at least one observation per week, with evaluations sometimes coming very soon in the school year, when teacher-student relationships are still forming, or during weeks when there are tests, holidays or other disruptions to the schedule.

While the district office did not respond to requests for confirmation by press time, Hooper said she has heard that in the 2014-2015 school year, teacher evaluations will broaden to include standardized test scores, student and possibly parent surveys, and classroom evaluations. The results of these evaluations may then be tied to teacher pay, but exactly how this will be done is not clear.

For Hooper, who is fully in favor of teachers being evaluated, any system put in place should be clearly tied to supporting what works in the classroom, for both students and teachers

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Reporting for this article supported in part by Bush Foundation.

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