Earlier this year, New York State made headlines by requiring - among other measures - two observations per year for teachers as part of a new evaluation system. What's particularly notable about this reform is that one of these observations must be conducted by an outside, independent evaluator.
While feelings amongst educators are clearly mixed on the issue, the addition of impartial evaluators into the law addresses the state's very real concerns of inflated scoring and incorporates emerging research. A study from the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings, Evaluation Teachers with Classroom Observations: Lessons Learned in Four Districts, concluded that in order to be truly effective, outside observers should be used for at least one observation per year.
But the potential benefit of using independent observers extends far beyond simply reducing bias.
Evaluations should be systems of growth, not "gotcha," and many states and districts have already started to make important changes to their educator effectiveness systems to ensure processes are more than just acts of compliance. But unfortunately, 70% of teachers polled in our recent survey with SmartBrief said that they don't receive enough timely and meaningful feedback from their current observation systems.
Outside observers can offer teachers content-area expertise and relevant feedback that is essential for improving practices. It's impossible for a principal with a background in English, for example, to accurately and effectively support a chemistry or calculus teacher. In addition, external observers make it possible for principals to spend less time on paperwork and more time on what matters the most for their teachers and students.
The benefits of outside observers aren't just limited to evaluations, though. Third party coaches have been proven to promote teacher growth by:
- Providing content-specific feedback
- Utilizing research-based coaching strategies
- Establishing a professional relationship that is free of judgment and/or personal dynamics
Given that research and practice seem to be pointing in the same direction, district and school leaders should start considering how to utilize outside observers and evaluators.
Watch for my next post, which will feature the three keys to selecting the right partner to conduct observations and ensuring that they can truly support teachers.