Educator Evaluations: Moving from Performance Appraisal to Continuous Growth & Improvement

As I write this, spring has finally sprung and I’m enjoying puttering around in my garden after so many long months of winter. I’ve come to be a big fan of container gardening, with straw bales being my favorite. Of course, gardening takes time and I won’t be able to go out and pick a nice juicy red tomato for several weeks, but I know that if I carefully prepare the soil (or straw) and provide some tender loving care and attention they will grow and ripen, and hopefully by July 4th I will be able to enjoy the fruits of my labor.

The thought occurred to me this morning that gardening seems to be an appropriate analogy for how we prepare and then measure the impact that educators have on their P-12 students. It is a commonly accepted premise that teacher quality has a huge impact on student achievement; that’s why it’s so important to prepare teachers (and school leaders) with excellence. Returning to my tomato analogy for a moment, I look for quality seeds and strong bedding plants because I know it will make a difference in the end result. Selecting high-quality teacher and school leader candidates who show a propensity for success is essential, and exceptional preparation leads to exceptional performance.

But, how is the best way to measure their performance once educators are in the classroom? Because the United States Department of Education does not mandate a specific approach, there are multiple models in use. Some departments of education have adopted statewide models while other states leave it up to each individual school district. Some use well-constructed, proprietary assessments that have been proven valid and reliable, while others allow building principals to create their own forms and evaluation criteria. This makes it impossible for researchers, teacher educators, and policy makers to identify patterns and trends or draw any conclusions with confidence about specific performance indicators of highly effective educators. However, one common thread is that in the United States, nearly all teacher performance evaluations are (1) compulsory, (2) completed by their building principal and (3) used primarily for continued employment and/or salary increase decisions.

There’s a lot to unpack here—far more than within a single blog posting. As my schedule permits I’ve been reading a book that has prompted me to question the current model. In their work, Coens and Jenkins (2000) challenge not only the current US model, but they question the very notion of teacher performance evaluations (which they refer to as appraisals) altogether. I’m not ready to take it that far, but I have formulated some “What if?” thoughts I’d like to share based on quotes from the book:

  • If this discussion were voluntary, requested, and if the person got to choose whom they got feedback from, then the process might be justified (Block, xv).
    • What if teachers could select at least 3 sources of feedback (i.e., parents, colleagues, student learning, building principal/headmaster, etc.)?
  • When we combine compensation with a developmental discussion, we undermine the openness and vulnerability that development requires, and all our ears can hear is the money (Block, xv).
    • What if schools separated a teacher’s continuous growth & improvement from their annual salary increases?
  • We can create cultures where peers can be accountable to each other and bosses can be as open in hearing feedback as they are in giving it (Block, xv-xvi).
    • What if teacher colleagues were seen as peer coaches and professional partners?
    • What if building principals/headmasters were viewed as an equal leg on the continuous growth & improvement stool, not one rating or evaluating performance?
    • What if building principals/headmasters received feedback from teachers about their support?
  • It requires a shift from “managing” people to helping people manage themselves and the business (p. 5).
    • What if a model could be developed to support each teacher’s continuous professional growth & improvement, whereby he/she would:
      • Establish goals and action plans
      • Seek feedback from trusted sources
      • Participate in targeted professional development opportunities that align with goals and action plans
  • Paramount to this book is the idea: Employees want to be and are fully capable of being responsible for themselves (p. 5).
    • Unfortunately, while it is true that employees want to be and are fully capable of being responsible for themselves, unfortunately, they do not all possess the same level of maturity, responsibility, work ethic, self-discipline, etc.
    • Therefore, a continuous professional growth & improvement model may not be sufficient for all employees. In those cases, an additional performance appraisal may be necessary.
  • Performance Appraisal defined: The practice of performance appraisal is a mandated process in which, for a specified period of time, all or a group of employees’ work performance, behaviors, or traits are individually rated, judged, or described by a person other than the rated employee and the results are kept by the organization (p. 14).
  • The functions of appraisal (pp. 16-17) are: (1) Improvement; (2) Coaching and Guidance; (3) Feedback and Communication; (4) Compensation; (5) Staffing Decisions and Professional Development; and (6) Termination and Legal Documentation.
    • What if a Continuous Growth & Improvement Model could be created that would include functions 1, 2, 3, and 5?
    • What a Continuous Growth & Improvement Model could be kept separate from functions 4 and 6?
  • Assumption, Nature of Defect, and Alternative Assumption table (pp. 22-23)
    • What if a Continuous Growth & Improvement Model could be created that would address these defects?
  • Emerging Thinking model vs. Appraisals model (p. 44, Figure 2.1)
    • What if a Continuous Growth & Improvement Model could be created that would facilitate Emerging Thinking indicators?


After jotting down my thoughts I noticed some others share my interest in this topic including a blog post by Stacia Garr.  This is all an important part of the conversation we must have about quality assurance, institutional effectiveness, student achievement, and teacher preparation. What else do we as a community need to consider?




Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and educational agencies in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, leadership, outcomes-based performance, making data-driven decisions, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about various issues related to academic excellence through her blog site ( Roberta can be reached through Twitter (@RRossFisher) and LinkedIn (Roberta Ross-Fisher).


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