Classroom Observation Significantly Influenced by Context

“Despite the intense focus on the use of student test scores to gauge teacher performance, the majority of our nation’s teachers receive annual evaluation ratings based primarily on classroom observations (Steinberg & Donaldson, in press). These observation-based performance measures aim to capture teachers’ instructional practice and their ability to structure and maintain high-functioning classroom environments. However, little is known about the ways that classroom context—the settings in which teachers work and the students that they teach—shapes measures of teacher effectiveness based on classroom observations. Given the widespread adoption of high-stakes evaluation systems that rely heavily on classroom observations, it is critical that we have a clearer understanding of how the composition of teachers’ classrooms influences their observation scores.

. . . We find that teacher performance, based on classroom observation, is significantly influenced by the context in which teachers work. In particular, students’ prior year (i.e., incoming) achievement is positively related to a teacher’s measured performance captured by the FFT.” [Bold added]

—Matthew Steinberg, University of Pennsylvania and Rachel Garrett, American Institutes for Research, “Panel Paper: Classroom Context and Measured Teacher Performance: What Do Teacher Observation Scores Really Measure?

More on Teacher Data Reports

With the ongoing controversy that’s occurring right now in NY due to the public release of teacher data reports (good on GothamSchools, by the way, for staying true to their professional values and refusing to publish these deeply flawed reports), I’d like to forward a couple of articles I wrote a while ago about this very matter.

Here is my post for Education Nation in September, in which I delineate an important distinction of teacher accountability that is almost always ignored:

It is . . .  imperative that when we talk about accountability we specify whether we are discussing professional accountability to the ethical and technical standards of the teaching profession, or to public accountability as public employees. If we are referring to the first, then we can talk about individual teachers. If we are referring to the latter, then we should refer up the chain of command. [Emphasis added]

Here is an op/ed I wrote for Times Union in January, in which I point out that the implementation of teacher evaluations in NY State has been fumbled by Albany because they failed to take into greater consideration classroom-based perspectives:

. . . the process of evaluating teachers must be tied directly and explicitly to the establishment of a professional learning community within each school and district. 
A professional learning community is designed to engage teachers and administrators in continuous dialogue, feedback and support in order to improve teacher performance and, consequently, student learning. Without that, any evaluation process will inevitably devolve into checklists (no matter how advanced the instrument), ‘gotcha’ feedback, and more meaningless paperwork that has no impact on learning. . .
 Policymakers are far removed from the realities and challenges of the classroom. They understandably place great emphasis on measures that are easily definable and quantifiable. But teachers know that ground-level implementation of any policy measure must take into consideration the context of a school and community in order to be implemented with fidelity. [Emphasis added]

For more on the recommendations that I and other teachers made with The VIVA Project last January, you can view our report on The VIVA Project website.