The new teacher evaluation system Louisiana launched this fall may be too simplistic, according to the architect of one of the most widely used evaluation systems in the country – and the one on which Louisiana’s new system is based.
Charlotte Danielson is the creator of a method of observing and rating teachers based on their performance in the classroom known as the Framework for Teaching. Louisiana has adopted part, but not all, of her framework for use in classroom observations, which will factor into a teacher’s annual score and which will ultimately determine whether educators can keep their jobs.
Although Danielson helped the state create a shortened version of her system at its request, she’s worried her truncated observation checklist could create problems for teachers and evaluators.
“I think it decreases accuracy. I think that’s an almost certain consequence,” she said.
Louisiana adopted the new system to comply with Act 54, a law passed in 2010 aimed at improving teacher quality in the state with more intensive, annual teacher evaluations. Half of a teacher’s rating will be calculated based on how he or she scores in the observation, and half will be determined by how students perform on standardized tests. Teachers who perform poorly on the evaluations could lose their certification.
Danielson’s system includes 22 indicators to use when observing teachers in the classroom, each scored on a four-point rating scale. The indicators include skills as varied as “creating an environment of respect and rapport” and “demonstrating knowledge of content and pedagogy” to “communicating with families” and “maintaining accurate records.”
A new teacher evaluation system in Louisiana requires frequent classroom observations and the use of test score data in teacher ratings. The Hechinger Report has partnered with The Times-Picayune on a series of in-depth stories examining the possible benefits and pitfalls of the new policies.
Louisiana’s version includes only five indicators: setting instructional outcomes, managing classroom procedures, using questioning and discussion techniques, engaging students in learning, and using assessment in instruction.
“I understand why people do it, because they want to decrease the cognitive load. That’s understandable,” Danielson said of the state’s decision to condense her framework. But teaching is complex, and evaluators — who will mostly be principals and assistant principals — may make mistakes when they see teachers doing something well, or badly, and they don’t have enough information from the rating system to help them score what they see, she said.
“My recommendation is to use the full instrument, and then if what you want to do is focus on some aspect of it, that’s fine. But adopt the whole thing,” she said.
Several states, including Oklahoma, Illinois and New York, have adopted Danielson’s framework in full, although districts have the option of choosing another observation system. (A paper copy of the entire framework is available for free online; Danielson’s organization charges for workshops and other assistance for schools that want help using it.)
The Louisiana Department of Education said in a statement that it was pleased with its version. “The Department of Education consulted with Ms. Danielson on the use of her Framework for Teaching and worked with educators across the state to use it as the basis for a strong evaluation tool,” the statement said. “We are confident that this modified version will allow our educators to focus on core components that present the best opportunities for professional growth and increased student achievement.”
The Danielson observation system has been the subject of independent research studies that suggest it can accurately gauge the skill level of a teacher. Louisiana’s shorter version has not been tested. Instead, the state last spring conducted a test run in nine parishes, including St. Bernard and Jefferson, of an observation framework that was ultimately discarded in favor of the abridged Danielson framework. In a newsletter to educators last April, John White, who was named state superintendent in January after the pilot program began, said the recommendations from the test run included a suggestion that the state switch observation frameworks.
Danielson was surprised to hear the state was launching a teacher observation tool without first trying it out in a few districts. Before Tennessee made its evaluation system a state requirement last year, for example, it experimented for a year with various observation models in schools across the state.
“It’s never a good idea to use something for high stakes without working out the bugs,” Danielson said. “The thing I worry about from a purely selfish standpoint is that my name gets associated with something people hate, and I’m not happy about that.”
Besides making people unhappy, mistakes could also end up costing the state, Danielson warned. “I worry a lot [that] if we have systems that are high stakes and low rigor, we’re going to end up with court cases,” she said.
Rep. Frank Hoffman, R-West Monroe, a state legislator and former teacher who authored the teacher evaluation law, said the system is still “a product in development.”
“As far as a teacher losing tenure, that cannot happen until 2013-14,” he said. “That gives us time to continue looking at whether this is working.”