The October 9, Observing Teacher Practice webinar was an excellent follow-up to the Special Webinar on October 3, Principal's Role in Evaluating Teachers which was cohosted by SCEE, the National Governors Association (NGA), and The National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) and sponsored by the Wallace Foundation. Tuesday's webinar went into detail regarding the role and importance of observer certification and training. This connected nicely to what Tracy Dorland said in last week's special webinar about how districts need to decide how to handle whether or not to certify their observers, especially certifications for principals and others who serve as observers.
Tracy went on to say that whether or not to certify observers helps districts differentiate the types of training and supports offered to observers. She stated that this constitutes an important shift in that observers move towards acting as "managers of a body of evidence of performance." By certifying observers in the evaluation process, districts seek to insure that the body of performance evidence collected by the observers will meet legal scrutiny if a teacher or principal decides to appeal their summative performance rating and the resulting employment decisions (contract continuation, salary adjustments, termination, etc.) resulting from the summative rating. This new role of managing a body of evidence of performance is in addition to the role of providing ongoing feedback and support to teachers/principals to improve their instructional or leadership practice.
Using the District of Columbia Public Schools IMPACT Educator Evaluation system as a primary example, the October 9 webinar provides details of how DCPS Master Educators are one important source of teacher observations. Master Educators are district level educators who have 10 - 20 years of professional teaching experience and who, like principals, go through a rigorous selection process. Kim Levengood, Director of the Teacher Effectiveness Strategy, pointed out that in selecting Master Educators they look for pedagogical experts, who have demonstrated the ability to deliver sensitive and kind feedback to teachers with the specific goal of improving practice. The Master Educators are ambassadors for DCPS who learn the district's academic plan in order to provide assistance as DCPS implements the Common Core State Standards as well as provide connections across various DCPS initiatives.
Though Master Educators are not the only source of teacher observers-all DC educators receive some slightly different form of IMPACT evaluation--building administrators continue to also conduct observations and provide timely and detailed feedback, all personnel conducting observations receive a rigorous training around four key cornerstones: (1) Consistent, Transferable Content; (2) Video-based Practice; (3) Responsive Assessment; and (4) Ongoing Calibration.
Consistent, Transferable Content
Every training session within the nine teaching standards has the same structure. First, they discuss how to collect evidence for the teaching standard. Next, they discuss how observers differentiate between evidence for the standard versus evidence applicable to other standards (one of the other 9 standards DCPS has established in their educator evaluation system). Lastly, they discuss how they determine ratings. They use the term "range finders" to describe the difficulty in determining a rating score between two points on the rating scale. DCPS uses a four point system, so it becomes challenging to decipher mid-level performance rating (e.g., what constitutes a high 2 from a low 3). Range finders are the cornerstone training elements that the district needs to provide to ensure inter-rater reliability and continuity across the system. Much of their norming and content involves looking at those range finders.
Video-based Practice and Responsive Assessment
Since interpretation is challenging, DCPS found that having a video library with many examples of short clips of multiple levels of practice helpful in teaching Master Educators and principals to recognize the different levels of performance. Since observations are typically 20-30 minutes in length, the DCPS developed 20-30 minute video clips of grade-level and content-specific clips for assessment purposes. Since the two groups of observers include Master Educators who are content experts and principals who have grade-band (elementary, middle, high school) experience, they needed to develop video resources to support both groups.
They have opportunities during the academic year to continue the conversations regarding norming and to ensure that the district is providing consistent evaluation support.
Kim stated that their top recommendations to other districts involved in this work are:
- First consider the end. (Consider what your desired outcomes for the evaluation system are when making decisions to ensure that your outcomes are aligned.)
- Decide who you are going to certify as observers and how the certification will be determined.
- Decide what expertise those people need in order to feel confident that they will produce accurate and consistent evaluations.
- Decide what ongoing support and training will be provided in order to ensure consistent evaluations after the initial training.
Though the focus of this blog has been on the role of Master Educators in observing teacher practice, the October 9 webinar went into more details regarding the DCPS IMPACT Educator Evaluation System as well as other important points regarding creating effective educator evaluation systems. If you missed this webinar, we encourage you to watch it. You may find links to stream or download the webinar HERE. As a benefit to SCEE members, regular monthly webinars are password protected. You may contact Naz Rajput at email@example.com regarding the password or SCEE membership details.
 This is a term they appropriated from the MET study.