Guest Post written by Craig D. Jerald of Break the Curve Consulting.
On Friday the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation released the latest findings from its $45 million Measure of Effective Teaching (MET) Project. MET researchers concluded that teachers should be evaluated using “multiple measures” of teaching effectiveness, including student surveys, value-added estimates based on student test scores, and direct observations of classroom practice. Indeed, the MET Project recommended that evaluation systems should include observations even though they are expensive to conduct reliably and add little to the predictive power of value-added scores alone. Despite facing very tight budgets, not one single state or district will ignore that recommendation and evaluate teachers without directly observing them in action.
The reason for that costly consensus is that observations contribute something that test-score based measures simply cannot. As the MET Project put it, “the real potential of classroom observations is their usefulness for diagnosis and development of instructional practice.” In other words, everyone agrees that teacher evaluations should be about more than simply measuring performance; evaluations also should be about helping educators improve their performance. And it’s worth spending more on a set of evaluation measures that can accomplish both.
Yet many education advocates who wholeheartedly support the use of multiple measures for teacher evaluation still resist such measures when it comes to evaluating schools, including the school-level analogue of classroom observations: on-site “inspections.” In a paper published by Education Sector today, On Her Majesty’s School Inspection Service, I use examples from England to show how inspections can contribute the kind of diagnostic feedback and support for improvement nearly completely lacking under No Child Left Behind.
England is just one of dozens of countries around the world where inspectors visit schools. Just as most U.S. policymakers would never consider evaluating teachers without observing them, those countries would never consider holding schools accountable without taking time to inspect them.
Of course, U.S. advocates who worry that inspections might “water down” school accountability systems do have a point. Frankly, I shared similar concerns when Education Sector invited me to write a report on this topic. But after spending months studying England’s approach, I became convinced that there are ways to incorporate inspections into school accountability systems in ways that do not sacrifice “rigor.”
In fact, I concluded that England’s current inspection system offers clues to solving many challenges related to holding schools accountable in the post-NCLB era, including the following:
- Judging schools on a broader range of evidence without losing sight of the fundamental importance of student achievement, including standardized test scores;
- Leveraging expert judgment rather than relying solely on quantitative formulas, yet still ensuring sufficient safeguards against inconsistent or inflated ratings; and perhaps most importantly
- Achieving a better balance between rigorous evaluative ratings and better diagnostic feedback to help schools improve.
For all of those reasons, state and federal policymakers should give careful consideration to the potential for using inspections to improve school-level accountability systems. It’s time to think about “observing” schools, too.