What it Really Takes to Evaluate an NYC Teacher

Thursday, June 12, 2014 - 04:00 AM

Principal John Curry observing teacher Noah Foster at work, at the Community Action Middle School (Beth Fertig/WNYC)

Evaluating a New York City public school teacher used to come down to two letters: S or U, for satisfactory or unsatisfactory. And it was common for almost all teachers — in 2012 year it was 97 percent — to receive a satisfactory rating.

That system was scrapped by the state to provide more nuance with greater accountability. Teachers are now rated through a combination of classroom observations and student test scores. There's been a lot of debate about whether it's fair to use test scores but overall teachers and principals said they appreciated the classroom observation component of the new system. 

It's just very complicated.

At the Community Action School on Manhattan's West 93rd Street, principal John Curry and special teacher Noah Foster allowed us to see a real, live classroom observation and follow-up conversation.

Principals are supposed to make at least four classroom observations of every teacher, and they have to stay for at least 15 minutes. During these visits they had to measure a teacher on 22 different competencies, which cover everything from lesson planning to classroom management. The new teachers contract whittles the list down eight competencies starting next school year, partly because principals said they were overwhelmed by paperwork.

Curry recently watched one of Foster's seventh grade English classes, which he was co-teaching with a general education teacher because it had a mix of different students.

Curry brought along his laptop for notes and cell phone to record parts of the lesson. He leaned in closely when Foster pressed the students to think about a writing assignment based on a chart about student crime.

"Careful, does the data say that kids are turning into criminals?" the teacher asked. "No," a girl conceded

Curry was pleased by the exchange. The next day, Curry gave Foster a "highly effective" on six of the eight areas he observed that day, and an "effective" on two. But it was the conversation with his principal that meant more to Foster than the actual ratings.

"I value these conversations extraordinarily," he said. 


Comments [5]

C Jones

There are so many things wrong with this system. The reality is 1) teacher prep programs can't really prepare their graduates to do the job because you only figure it out in the crucible of the classroom 2) most new teachers will admit they more or less suck, but improve their practice with time and experience and 3)99.9% of teachers are caring people who want to do a good job.

The observations are largely meaningless because the observer "sees what they want to see," and slants the observation accordingly. Furthermore, people don't learn in conditions of fear. Although there are now four categories (ineffective, developing, effective, and highly effective) teachers categorized as developing are at risk of losing their job. The reality is that most new teachers are "developing." What they need is support: a strong curriculum, professional development, and chances to collaborate with more experienced peers in order to improve their practice. Furthermore, the observations tie up the principals and divert them from management of the school.

Jun. 25 2014 04:29 PM
baby doll from brooklyn

Our principal has told us he does not want to hear the "o" word. We are all overwhelmed.

Jun. 13 2014 01:49 PM
Rosalie Friend, Ph.D. from New York City

The debate on whether it is fair to use student test scores to evaluate teachers should be ended by acknowledging the fact that student test scores are not an accurate indicator of teacher effectiveness. The American Education Research Association and the American Statistical Association have both issued statements saying that using student test scores to assess teachers is neither valid nor reliable. You can only compare teachers on the basis of student scores if every teacher has comparable students, which is impossible. Student scores are affected by home background, what was learned in earlier grades, each student's temperament and ability, the school's resources and atmosphere, and a host of factors beyond the control of the teacher.

Jun. 12 2014 08:20 PM
Lauren Thompson from Brooklyn, NY

This principal is going above and beyond, spending more than two hours in this classroom in order to make a thorough evaluation. But principals/administrators are required only to spend 15 min per observation, and that's what most will do. That seems patently unfair to teachers -- how likely is it that a teacher will be displaying competency in all 22 (or 8) criteria during those particular 15 minutes? It's also worth taking a close look at the 8 criteria -- do they actually describe what makes for effective teaching? Do these criteria allow for the fact that different teaching approaches can be equally effective, depending on the teacher and the students? Follow up, please!!!

Jun. 12 2014 09:02 AM
Roberto Gautier from Brooklyn

Isn't it more correct to say, "The number of criteria ... is overwhelming," rather than "amount of criteria"?

Jun. 12 2014 08:36 AM

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