Teacher Evaluation in K-12 and Higher Education

Here is my 10-year prediction about the use of value-added measures  to evaluate K-12 teachers. Judging the effectiveness of teachers based on student test scores will get ratcheted downward in many districts’ efforts to come up with measures to determine how effective teachers are in their classrooms.  The technical objections —instability in year-to-year scores and measurement error–added to the strong and abiding perception among teachers that such a measure is inherently unfair, plus the obvious fact that a majority of teachers still do not have student test scores in math and English/reading to even be judged will shrink the use of student scores. And do not forget with the advent of Common Core standards and new tests even further delays will occur in using student test scores to judge teacher performance.

Other measures, however, will be added such as classroom observations, older elementary school and secondary student evaluations, and ones district officials allow or have been negotiated into contracts. Examples are teachers proposing different measures for determining their effectiveness such as growth in student writing and progress in student work over the course of year. Over the next decade, I predict, most districts will come to use multiple measures to judge teacher performance. Student test scores, however, shrunken in influence, will continue to be one of those measures.


Nothing like the changes roiling K-12 teacher evaluation will occur, however, for professors. University and college teacher evaluation differ dramatically from what occurs in K-12 schools. Professors’ effectiveness is largely judged by research and non-research publications, grants received, services rendered to the field, and other criteria. When it comes to teaching, it is clearly subordinate to research and publication. Moreover, there are no standardized tests for undergraduates or graduates to take and no scores to use. On occasion, when recommendations for determining what students learn after four years of undergraduate courses or such tests are given to students, college presidents, professors, and higher education researchers scold those who endorse such policies. They decry the design of the tests and the conclusions reached . Especially if the results about student performance are startling as occurred recently. No chance of value-added measures entering higher education.

So how are professors evaluated on their teaching? No university-wide tests of student learning across undergraduate years are administered other than what individual professors give students for their courses. Some colleges and university departments do occasional classroom observations. A few offer professors the chance to create teaching portfolios. Some encourage professors to have their classes videotaped. What counts most in judging professorial performance, however, are student evaluations.  And even their worth is contested (Observations on the Folly of Using Student Evaluations of College).

Nonetheless, they do matter to university administrators when it comes to judging the quality of faculty teaching for purposes of awarding salary raises and, occasionally, promotion. Without department heads, administrators, or peers directly observing lectures and seminars, there are only student evaluations. They are given great weight. And these evaluation forms are generally multiple choice with some space for comments. They are often short and scored by Scantron.

Such a system of evaluating teaching and student learning that depends wholly on student responses to a handful of multiple choice questions mixed with a few open-ended ones captures the general low-status of teaching in higher education. Few professors believe such a system of evaluating their performance is either accurate or fair. There are, of course, scattered institutions across the country, both private and public, that do, indeed, prize both teaching and student learning. These places have more than one measure of performance and provide support for improved teaching. But they are only a tiny fraction of higher education institutions.

My earlier prediction for K-12 teacher evaluation forecasts less use of student tests as a metric for judging teaching quality and a growing reliance on the use of mixed measures including student evaluations. For higher education, however, judging the quality of teaching will continue in its low status—as compared to research and publication–and student evaluations will weigh even more heavily in sorting out college and university adjuncts and tenure-line faculty insofar as salary increases and job longevity. With the current frenzy over online courses in higher education, evaluating teaching and learning will depend even more on student evaluations.

Thus, evaluating effective teaching in K-12 classrooms travels a very different trajectory than in higher education. Neither has yet garnered the affection nor respect of teachers or professors. Neither captures the complexity of teaching.


Filed under how teachers teach

13 responses to “Teacher Evaluation in K-12 and Higher Education

  1. Pingback: Teacher Evaluation in K-12 and Higher Education @Larrycuban | A New Society, a new education! | Scoop.it

  2. Pingback: Teacher Evaluation in K-12 and Higher Education @Larrycuban « juandon. Innovación y conocimiento

  3. Fascinating analysis of differing attitudes in schools and universities that really made me reflect on my own experience. When I took my Masters and before I trained and became a teacher myself, and was therefore in any position to judge their skills or practice, I was “taught” by three professors. I can honestly say at this (considerable) distance and as an experienced teacher myself of school and postgraduate students, of the three, only one taught me anything at all. Everything else I learned in that intense year, spent mostly in a carrel in the university library, I learned from my reading and my peers. What a shock!

  4. For K-12, are you suggesting that policy will be rewritten at the state level to deemphasize test scores in relationship to teacher accountability systems over the next ten years? Next year, state test scores will cover 50% of New Jersey teachers’ overall evaluation.

    • larrycuban

      Yes, I do predict that, as administrations come and go at the federal and state levels, there will be such changes in the next decade.Thanks for the question, Louis.

  5. Pingback: Teacher Evaluation in K-12 and Higher Education | Teaching Excellence (Educación superior) | Scoop.it

  6. So are the people who are designing teacher evaluation systems are they professors at colleges who are doing that designing as part of research to get grants while their own students languish? An interesting commentary.

    Thanks for the tip on the book, I need to read it to see if there was any difference noticed between #STEM undergraduate education and other fields of study.

    That will be the day when U.S. News and World Report’s college edition ranks colleges on their commitments to undergraduate education and the quality of undergraduate professors and their practices.

    Then again, the comparison between teaching at postsecondary and secondary is problematic. If anything, colleges and universities get to be very selective of who they admit. Like the CalTech admissions counselor told me after my 3rd unsuccessful attempt to gain admission: “we don’t admit people who need an undergraduate education [silly boy!], if you get in here you are already educated, you just need to get in touch with the best and brightest in the fields and go from there [I presume to garner more grants and published research papers.]”

    Most secondary schools do not have that luxury, or polishing those who are already well-trained.

  7. Pingback: Teacher Evaluation in K-12 and Higher Education | For Parents: About Teacher Effectiveness Policy | Scoop.it

  8. I come from a school that has a performance-based component completely unrelated to test scores. If you ask the drafters of the system, they will call it “Knowledge-and-Skills-Based” performance appraisal. Knowledge and skills are graded on a 1-4 rubric.

    The full program took a few years to implement. A pilot group began in 2009. Everyone goes through the system within the first four years at the school. The alternative: National Board Certification.

    Pay greatly increases as scores on the rubric increase. Teachers are graded mostly on classroom observations (of which their are many). They are scored by self, by a peer, by their supervisor, and by a school-wide admin.

    In my opinion, the observation/portfolio to rubric assessment is probably the most fair. The biggest reason is that teachers are not in competition. There is not a limited pool of funds to be distributed. Teachers’ salaries depend on their ranking alone.

    Some of the downsides:
    – the year teachers go through “career structure” assessment is very stressful.
    – after the assessment, admin rarely enter your classroom. They are too busy making observations of those in the career structure year.
    – admin find the scoring process very stressful.
    – while there is not competition in the system, teachers compare scores. Comparisons are rarely helpful.
    – questions still arise as to fairness. Are teachers in one division tending o score higher than teachers in other divisions?

    Performance appraisals may go that direction worldwide, but districts will need to account for the additional teacher/admin time requirements and added stress associated with making the process reasonably fair and accurate.

  9. Pingback: Teacher Evaluation in K-12 and Higher Education | Larry Cuban on ... | Faculty Evaluation | Scoop.it

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