Scholastic and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation conducted a survey of more than 20,000 K-12 teachers nationwide. It  found that only 29 percent of teachers find  the evaluation process to be “very helpful.” Currently, many educators’ teaching abilities and classroom management skills are evaluated by rare occurrences of formal observation from principals or other administrators.

One of the main flaws in this system is that administrators, whether consciously or not, tend to grade teachers in their school very highly, unless a teacher has an extremely poor performance. One of the main concerns of many educators is that principals base an evaluation on a very limited window of time spent in individual classrooms. Though regular visits from administrators are becoming a more common, teachers are generally left in one of two camps: proficient or inadequate.

Of course, it’s important for educational administrators to know which members of their staff are struggling, but what about all the teachers that are doing a good job? Professional development is equally important for exceptional teachers, but if an evaluation gives them little guidance, it can be difficult for them not to stagnate.

Encouraging Teachers to Grow

Many educational institutions have recently allocated time and money to training principals in more effective classroom observation techniques. Perhaps the most important aspect of this revamp is encouraging principals to spend more time in each classroom.

However, a challenge still exists – even trained principals struggle to differentiate teachers in the middle. These administrators might be able to identify teachers that are exemplary and those that are ineffective, but ranking teachers in between these two extremes proves difficult.

Many educators have even volunteered to have their classrooms observed by trained researchers, but even these professionals struggled to create a strong ranking system. Many institutions have begun using film to observe teachers and share classroom experiences, using such archives to work toward improving teacher evaluation.

Teaching to the Test

Another recent challenge for teachers is being evaluated on test scores. Standardized testing has become a regular part of education in the United States, and in many cases teacher recognition and compensation relies on the results of such exams. This is counterintuitive, as it potentially penalizes great teachers that are in challenging school districts. Furthermore, it encourages teachers to allocate the majority of their classroom time toward teaching to the test. This concept has encouraged lawmakers to slowly remove emphasis from standardized testing, but many educators are still evaluated on test scores.

The downfall of evaluating teachers on test scores is similar to the problem with principals only observing them once a year – it’s a small window off of which to base a year’s work. Teachers often don’t even receive test scores until the year is over, making it impossible to refocus on weak areas. Moreover, without year-round check ins it’s difficult to measure the amount of material students have learned overall.

Evaluations become even more complicated as classrooms evolve toward curriculum integration. Educators across the nation are restructuring class time to allow students to optimize technology and learn to work independently. As these learning methods are more widely embraced, teachers will be able to differentiate and individualize lessons to encourage students to achieve at their own pace. This will require teacher evaluations to be restructured to mirror the classroom. Evaluations will need to be reformatted to adopt modern learning strategies, refocus on improving entire institutions rather than individual classrooms, and implement proven programs.