You might enjoy listening to the Etta James classic hit At Last you read this blog entry. It’s the tune I’m hearing, having just re-read what I consider to be one of the most insightful counterpoints to the recent federal policy recommendations that outline compliance requirements in order for states to participate in the education stimulus Etta James Album Cover At Lastfund efforts. I’m referring specifically to requiring states to implement processes for evaluating teacher quality solely on the basis of student achievement results.

Coincidentally, the inspiring article I refer to is by another Etta—Etta Kralovec—in her piece “A More Complete Evaluation” (Educational Leadership, Dec. 2010)

To offer a little context…Etta K. is an associate professor of teacher education at the University of Arizona. In an effort to re-align her thinking about what it really takes to be an effective teacher and education leader, she arranged for a leave from her university in order to assume the principalship of a small high school. (Would that more education professors and pundits could temper their views with a similar hands-on eye-opener.)

From her new vantage point, Etta K. describes a much more powerful process for evaluating teachers that not only provides multiple data points for assessing teacher quality, but also unleashes the capacity of teachers to inform their own learning. In her words, “To evaluate teachers fairly and accurately, principals need to know what goes on behind the scenes.” In her evaluation model Etta K. advocates looking at student work, teaching documents (rubrics, project guidelines, discussion guides, and group-work guidelines), student voice, and grading practices.

Furthermore, Etta K.’s evaluation model underscores the tremendous impact of teacher collaboration—peers sharing and discussing their teaching documents, successes, and challenges. She rightly notes, “Teachers are the best professional developers of their fellow teachers.” Her ideas are very much aligned with the way that TERC’s Using Data model facilitates collaboration among school data team members as they investigate challenges in student learning, pinpoint student learning problems and achievement gaps, deconstruct learning tasks and student work samples, and examine assessment instruments. What a portfolio for teacher evaluation the artifacts of this sort of collaboration can provide!

Think about it…if even on-site, face-to-face observation has limitations in evaluating teacher quality if not accompanied by the artifacts of teaching, then how in the world can we justify using just a standardized test score? Etta K. and others like her are changing the way we can think about effective teacher evaluation.

Recently, the largest teachers union in the state of Massachusetts, the MTA, proposed that the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education dramatically change the way teachers and administrators are evaluated. It has yet to be proven whether the tenets of the Massachusetts proposal are the right ones, but they do call for multiple measures of teacher assessment and suggest strategies for how to use these assessments to develop, not punish teachers. MTA President Paul Toner believes that “…the changes we are proposing will improve the quality and depth of the evaluations performed, and that will improve teaching and learning.”

All I can say is that “At Last” we have at least stirred up the right conversation, and enlightened spokespersons like Etta Kralovek, Paul Toner, the MTA membership, and others like them are bringing teacher voice into the evaluation equation.