Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Report on Teacher Observation Fails to Seriously Address Challenges

The recent report Fixing Classroom Observations promises remedies for shortcomings in the classroom observations that are a key part of teacher evaluation. But the report itself comes up short, according to a new review.

The report’s problems are several, writes reviewer Jennie Whitcomb, but they boil down to the fact that the proposed remedies are poorly grounded and unlikely to be very helpful. Whitcomb reviewed the report for the Think Twice think tank review project of the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder.

As its title suggests, Fixing Classroom Observations wants to fix the rubrics, essentially checklists, that are used to observe and rate teachers as part of the evaluation process. The report suggests those rubrics should be clearer and more focused, particularly on the lesson content teachers are expected to transmit. Those changes are so important to the report’s publisher, TNTP, that the document calls them “must haves” if the observation element of teacher evaluations is to be improved.

Whitcomb points out, however, that the report “includes no research-informed argument to support its claim” on behalf of changing observation rubrics. And while helping observers focus on lesson content might be helpful, she writes, the report never offers a strong rationale for doing so.

Whitcomb, associate dean for teacher education at CU Boulder and a former editor of the Journal of Teacher Education, concludes that the core challenges of teacher evaluation are too complex to be seriously addressed by simply streamlining observation instruments or aligning them more closely with curriculum. Rather than useful research, she writes, the report is simply an advocacy document that offers no real guidance to policymakers.

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