A more effective system of evaluating teachers is needed whether or not we assign teachers to different roles within the system but will be even more important if we do attempt to reorganize teaching staffs along the lines described above. Teacher evaluations are presently done in a very superficial manner in most schools. Evaluations are typically conducted by administrators who visit the class- room briefly and infrequently to observe the teacher. The key components of a more comprehensive evaluation system are competency testing, student evaluations of teachers, and effective utilization and interpretation of data from the standardized tests administered to students.
A reasonable amount of general knowledge and a thorough knowledge of a particular subject area are necessary, but not sufficient, qualifications to be a good teacher. Civil service exams are given for many government jobs and some states already require potential teachers to pass a competency test. Teachers should not be hired unless they are able to demonstrate a reasonable level of both general knowledge, and subject matter knowledge. A standardized test can pro- vide an objective basis for prospective teachers to demonstrate competency, but we must remember that recognition and recall of facts are the lowest order think- ing skills. It is much more difficult to evaluate the less tangible talents that are critical to providing effective instruction. Evaluations of a teacher’s ability to select appropriate resources, communicate effectively, and lead a discussion are more subjective. The reliability of evaluations of these skills can be made more objective by including as many individuals as possible in the evaluation process.
The simplest and most cost-effective way to increase the number of people involved in the evaluation of teachers would be to include students and teachers in the process. Students spend more time with a teacher than anybody else. Many administrators already solicit input from students regarding the performance of teachers. This source of information should be formally included in the evaluation process by means of a well-designed survey. Teachers could also serve on committees on a rotating basis to conduct peer evaluations. A sufficient amount of release time should be provided to allow for lengthy and frequent observations, as well as opportunities for the teachers involved to discuss what they have observed, both among themselves and with the teacher being evaluated. These visits would present a valuable learning opportunity to all of the teachers involved.
Standardized competency tests, student evaluations, and assessments by other teachers would all induce some degree of anxiety in most teachers. Every effort should be made to reduce the level of concern. Incompetent teachers should be weeded out before being hired, or within the first year or two of teaching. The concept of tenure should be retained to safeguard academic freedom and healthy experimentation. The primary purpose of these various evaluation tools should be to foster the development of teaching skills.
The most effective evaluation system of all would be to allow students to choose their teachers. If teacher-assigned grades were replaced by course-specific standardized testing, there would be no incentive for students to select a teacher because of a reputation for inflating grades or being “easy.” There would, in fact, be a strong incentive for students to select the teachers who could help them master course-related objectives most effectively. Incompetent teachers would find themselves teaching to empty classrooms. That would provide a clear signal that the teacher involved should seek further training or consider changing careers.