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Building a better evaluation system: Tools to evaluate teachers

Although classroom observations are by far the most common form of teacher evaluation, there are several other methods that can be used to evaluation the quality of teachers. All can provide important information about teacher quality, but each has its own strengths and limitations. It’s important to understand the strengths and limitations of each in order to use these tools to provide a comprehensive evaluation of a teacher’s true performance.

A National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality (2008) report provided the following strengths and limitations of each of the teacher evaluation tools (Mathers, Oliva and Laine 2008):

Classroom Observation


  • Captures information about teachers’ instructional practices.
  • Can be used as a diagnostic or for final personnel decisions.
  • Can track a teacher’s growth and suggest needed professional development.


  • Biased results from poorly trained observers and inconsistent, brief observations.
    • When conducted more frequently, their reliability improves.
    • When observations are longer, their validity improves.

Lesson Plans Reviews

Lesson plans help examine how a teacher prepares to deliver content, develop student skills, and manage the classroom learning environment. Lesson plans are typically evaluated using a rubric. Few districts use lesson plans as part of a teacher’s evaluation.


  • Student learning is correlated with a teacher’s level of planning used to drive instruction.
  • More likely to be positively related to improved student outcomes when the plans are able to (Stronge 2007):
    • Link student learning objectives with teaching activities.
    • Describe teaching practices to maintain students’ attention.
    • Align student objectives with district and state standards.
    • Accommodate students with special needs.


  • A lesson a plan is just a plan. Once implemented, the plan may need to be adjusted
  • The quality and appropriateness of the adjustments of the plan in the classroom cannot be evaluated solely from the lesson-plan scoring rubric.
    • Stronger if combined with classroom observations.


Reflection is a process in which teachers analyze their own instruction retrospectively through profession conversations (Uhlenbeck, Verloop and Beijaard 2002), pre-observation and post-observation debriefings, the development of a portfolio, or an individual professional development plan.


  • May encourage teachers to continue to learn and grow throughout their careers (Uhlenbeck, Verloop and Beijaard 2002).
  • Videotaping class sessions allow teachers to review their performance so that they reflect and engage in in-depth conversations with their evaluators about the behaviors and practices observed.


  • Requires both time and a culture norm that supports this type of practice.
  • Making the time for teachers to engage in reflection may be low priority for administrators (Peterson and Comeaux 1990, Schon 1983).

Portfolio Assessments

Portfolio assessments tend to include several pieces of evidence of teacher classroom performance, including lesson plans, video of classroom teaching, self analysis, examples of student work and examples of teacher feedback given to students (Andrejko 1998). Portfolios are required in some states and districts but are not as common as classroom observation.


  • Allow evaluators to identify teachers’ instructional strengths and weaknesses and encourage ongoing professional development (Attinello, Lare and Waters 2006, Tucker, Stronge and Gareis 2002).
  • Allow evaluators to review nonclassroom aspects of instruction.
  • Provide teachers with opportunities to reflect on their teaching by reviewing documents contained in the portfolio.
  • Promotes the active participation of teachers in the evaluation process (Attinello, Lare and Waters 2006)


  • No conclusive findings on their reliability as part of an objective teacher-evaluation systems (Attinello, Lare and Waters 2006)
  • Research has raised questions about whether portfolios accurately reflect what occurs in the classroom.
  • Questions about whether portfolios leads to improvement of teaching practices.
  • Time to develop and review a portfolio is another concern (Attinello, Lare and Waters 2006, Tucker, Stronge and Gareis 2002).

Student Work-Sample Reviews

Analyzing student work samples is intended to provide a more insightful review of student learning results over time. However, few if any district or state policies explicitly require such reviews of student work as part of a teacher’s evaluation.


  • May help to better identify which elements of teaching relate more directly to increased student learning than standardized test scores.


  • Reviewing samples can be time-consuming.
  • More prone to issues of validity and reliability than are achievement test items.

Student Achievement Data

There is no one way to incorporate student achievement data into a teacher’s evaluation. There are several general models. The status model examines how students performed in one particular year. The improvement model examines how this year’s students performed compared to the teacher’s students from the year before. The growth model examines how much achievement growth students made from the previous year. The value-added model examines what impact the teacher had on his or her students’ achievement.(See also the Center’s report on Measuring Student Growth for the strengths and weaknesses of each of these models.)


  • Enables schools to measure the impact that instruction is having on student achievement.
  • Test items on well-developed standardized tests have been tested for issues of fairness and appropriateness.
  • Schools can examine the relationship between changes in student achievement gains, teachers, and schools (Braun 2005).


  • Standardized tests scores measure only a portion of the curriculum and teacher’s effects on learning.
  • Most statistical models are not able to differentiate which elements of teaching relate positive student achievement test outcomes.
  • Teacher value-added effects on test scores are meaningful only in relation to one another, rather than to established teaching proficiency criteria.

This report was written by Jim Hull, Center for Public Education Senior Policy Analyst.

Posted: March 31, 2011

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