One of the challenges that pay for performance or value-added proposals must face is teacher evaluation. Critics and proponents alike agree that the value teachers add cannot be measured solely on standardized tests. Studies that compare students tested at the start of the year and then again at the end come closest, especially when they track individual student progress. Yet even such measures are not enough on which to base bonus pay. Testing may show what goes in and what comes out, but without a fair and consistent look inside the black box that is the traditional classroom, we can only speculate about what value the teacher is adding.
President Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, said in an interview in Boston that “Teacher evaluation in this country is fundamentally broken.” Having been in many schools, I can't say I disagree. A number of factors contribute, from overworked principals to overwrought schedules. A much more comprehensive approach than is currently employed is needed. There are at least two ways to improve teacher evaluation if schools are to trust it as a basis for performance pay.
First, and already in place in many schools, is peer evaluation. If a school prioritizes this and schedules are arranged accordingly, teachers evaluating other teachers improves instruction and provides an accurate assessment of classroom effectiveness. When a variety of colleagues come in regularly to have a look--from supervisors to fellow subject specialists to grade-level peers to veterans to new teachers--a portfolio of evaluation can accumulate as a fair review of a teacher's work. Second, students should be part of teacher evaluation, not just in the form of their academic achievement, but also as partners in the teaching-learning environment. They are the most consistent witnesses of a teachers performance. The many interviews I have conducted with students of all ages convince me that students have meaningful and thoughtful things to say about their classroom experiences. Instead of leaving students to share such insights and judgments only with friends in the cafeteria or parents at home, we should include their voice in the portfolio. Such a "360" evaluation combined with academic results from September and June should give schools an adequate accounting of a teacher's performance.