Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Teacher Evals Go Digital

Here are some excerpts from an interesting article in the New York Times about some changes being made in teacher evaluations led by Bill Gates.  
"Mr. Gates is tracking the research closely. The use of digital video in particular has caught his attention. In an interview, he cited its potential for evaluating teachers and for helping them learn from talented colleagues.
“Some teachers are extremely good,” Mr. Gates said. “And one of the goals is to say, you know, ‘Let’s go look at those teachers.’ What’s unbelievable is how little the exemplars have been studied. And then saying, ‘O.K., How do you take a math teacher who’s in the third quartile and teach them how to get kids interested — get the kid who’s smart to pay attention, a kid who’s behind to pay attention?’ Teaching a teacher to do that — you have to follow the exemplars.”
The meticulous scoring of videotaped lessons for this project is unfolding on a scale never undertaken in educational research, said Catherine A. McClellan, a director for theEducational Testing Service who is overseeing the process.
By next June, researchers will have about 24,000 videotaped lessons. Because some must be scored using more than one protocol, the research will eventually involve reviewing some 64,000 hours of classroom video. Early next year, Dr. McClellan expects to recruit hundreds of educators and train them to score lessons.
The goal is to help researchers look for possible correlations between certain teaching practices and high student achievement, measured by value-added scores. Thomas J. Kane, a Harvard economist who is leading the research, is scheduled to announce some preliminary results in Washington next Friday. More definitive conclusions are expected in about a year.
The effort has also become a large-scale field trial of using classroom video, to help teachers improve and to evaluate them remotely.
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In addition to the cost — which many struggling districts may consider too high — another barrier could be teacher opposition. The Memphis teachers union, an affiliate of the National Education Association, has partnered with the foundation for the project. But Keith Harris, its president, said the use of videotaped observations in evaluations raised troubling questions.
“Whose eyes would see these videos?” Mr. Harris asked. “Who would own them? This seems like an ‘I gotcha’ kind of thing. We think these observations deserve a human being.”
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which has several affiliates participating in the research, also expressed reservations. “Videotaped observations have their role but shouldn’t be used to substitute for in-person observations to evaluate teachers,” Ms. Weingarten said. “It would be hard to justify ratings by outsiders watching videotapes at a remote location who never visited the classroom and couldn’t see for themselves a teacher’s interaction and relationship with students.”
Dr. Kane said doubts may disappear with time. “We’re not na├»ve,” he said. “We realize that most principals and teachers imagine an in-person visit from a human being when they think of classroom observations. But that could rapidly change. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that millions of classrooms could be using this technology within four or five years.”

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