There is a flurry of activity and debate about the use of evaluations and accountability in school systems lately. The US is having a debate over the use of value-added measures to determine teacher effectiveness and some teachers are losing their jobs. The UK is debating over the results of differential university entrance rates related to SES, Ontario districts have embedded evaluations into their culture, Qatar is publishing school report cards on their schools, Dubai is in its third year of annual school evaluations, and Abu Dhabi just announced that it will start conducting school evaluations, but not make them public. The list goes on.
Few argue the need for valid, standardized, reliable school measures – it is how these results are being used that is at the heart of the debate. There are sufficient blogs about the damage that poor evaluations, evaluation systems, and accountability policies can do to a school – especially one that is already struggling. But there should be equal air time offered to how evaluations can be beneficial to teachers, principals, parents, and students. Schools improve when they know what they are doing right and on what they need to focus more attention. That is what a responsible valid evaluation system offers.
When an evaluation system focuses on an honest examination of data from good assessment instruments that measure student achievement, student engagement, teacher efficacy, teacher practices, school culture, school climate, parental engagement, and all the other factors we know make a significant difference to success… then we have good relevant information for schools.When good information is made available, all the stakeholders can take responsibility and focus on meeting the needs of the students. Then we have the right environment for school improvement that will make a difference to student success.
- Policymakers will have the information necessary to target policies and resources across schools
- Principals will have the information needed to target their instructional and management leadership strategies within schools
- Teachers will have the information necessary to target their instructional and assessment practices in classrooms
- Parents will have the information necessary to support their children in the specifics of their learning and development
- Students will have the information necessary to become self-directed learners engaged in their own development
We have seen this approach work in multiple diverse settings on small, medium and large scales. But it is hard work when you first get started because it means opening up to the idea that evaluation is a welcomed supportive mechanism in education systems. This means that all stakeholders take their responsibility seriously and see the results as a mechanism for improvement rather than focus on irresponsible and ineffective blaming of individuals.
The true value of evaluations is in the information gathered, how that information gets used, and ultimately how it improves education for student success. Everything else is noise that takes away from focusing on the well-being of our students.