Ailing teacher evaluation program can’t be cured (by Wendy Lecker)

Among Governor Malloy’s package of election year gimmicks to win back enough support to get 50 percent of the vote in November’s gubernatorial election are a series of steps to deceive teachers, parents and public school advocates into thinking that he is mending his ways and stepping off the corporate education reform industry gravy train.

In a move that would make any panderer proud, Governor Malloy said he would even delay Connecticut’s unfair, inaccurate and counter-productive teacher evaluation program. In fact, he said he would delay it all the way until January 2015, a full TWO MONTHS after his dreamed of re-election.

What Malloy and his education reform allies refuse to admit is that Connecticut’s Ailing teacher evaluation program can’t be cured.  Delaying its implementation is a worthless political stunt.

As Wendy Lecker writes in her latest commentary piece for the Stamford Advocates and Hearst Media Group newspapers, “The time has come to repeal Malloy’s education reforms and develop proposals that will actually improve our schools.”

In another MUST READ piece, Wendy Lecker writes:

With an election year upon us, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy recently announced that we should delay his new teacher evaluation system. This comes after his policies wasted millions of dollars and thousands of teacher, administrator and student hours.

The governor claims a delay will solve the glitches in the system, implying that the problems with this unproven teacher evaluation system are only procedural.

The truth is that Connecticut’s new teacher evaluation model, called SEED, is fatally flawed and no amount of delay will cure it. It must be scrapped and replaced by a valid system that will actually work to improve teaching and learning.

As the Malloy administration has been warned repeatedly, the reliance on standardized test scores for 22.5 percent of a teacher’s evaluation renders the entire system unreliable.

Research has demonstrated conclusively that using standardized test to rate teachers is invalid because scores vary widely based on the test, year, class and statistical model used. This overwhelming evidence prompted Tennessee’s State Board of Education, one of the first adopters of the so-called Value Added Model (“VAM”), to now abandon the use of VAM in any decisions to license or fire teachers. A bill is pending in Tennessee to prohibit the use of student standardized test scores in teacher evaluations.

Connecticut uses an even more inaccurate method called Student Growth Percentiles (“SGP”). While VAM tries but fails to isolate a teacher’s small effect on student test scores, SGP does not even attempt to measure a teacher’s effect.

SGP tells us nothing about a teacher. Yet that is what Connecticut uses for 22.5 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. Though SGP is a portion of a teacher’s evaluation, it will likely be the determining factor because its volatility will make it the tipping point in a rating.

Delay will not cure the use of SGP. Time cannot magically make unreliable data more reliable — it just gives us more consistently unreliable data.

Delay will also not cure the other fatal flaws in the evaluation system.

The goal of Connecticut’s evaluation system should be to improve teaching and learning. Because they teach human beings, teachers work in a dynamic environment and must be able to adjust their lessons and behavior to each class. A successful teacher evaluation model captures authentic teaching and learning.

Kim Marshall’s admired mini-observation model employs this approach. Since not every aspect of teaching occurs in every class, several mini-observations are required, with conversations after each one. In order not to disrupt teaching, supervision should occur throughout the year, and evaluation at the end.

However, Connecticut’s teacher evaluation program emphasizes so-called measurement, not teaching practice. It is so focused on measurement that it detracts from teaching and learning.

Connecticut’s system is not geared toward improving teaching or learning because it did not emanate from the classroom or classroom practice. Teachers are asked to respond to externally generated jargon-filled questions that have little relationship to their classroom or students. Where they used to use staff meetings to review student work and share ideas for improving lessons, they now spend hours in meetings discussing how to answer these artificial questions and enter them into the computer.

In classroom observations, administrators write down every word a teacher says. One teacher reports having the evaluator interrupt her interactions with students so she could repeat verbatim what she had just said. An experienced counselor described an observed family meeting in which the administrator’s transcribing was so distracting that she focused on every word she said rather than the toxic dynamic developing between the parent and child. A 40-year veteran first-grade teacher recounted how she no longer reads books aloud to her students because she fears an evaluator will say she is off-script.

Waiting a year will not help. As one teacher said “We can all figure out how to fill out the forms more quickly and accurately and nothing will have improved for the student.”

He continued. “A teacher’s most valuable resource is time. I used to spend this time trying to think of ways to make my lessons more engaging, or how to scaffold better.” Now, the teacher reports spending that time answering questions that seem to exist merely to justify an outside consultant’s fee.

The majority of Connecticut teachers agree. UConn’s study of the evaluation pilot found that only 42 percent of teachers believe that with sufficient resources — time and staffing- SEED will improve teacher practice.

The time has come to repeal Malloy’s education reforms and develop proposals that will actually improve our schools.

You can read Wendy Lecker’s latest article and search for her previous commentary pieces at

  • Linda174

    Thank you Wendy again for your tireless devotion to authentic teaching and learning. Here is more on Marshall’s evaluation model. I will also link the supporting book.

    2. The rubrics are designed to give teachers an end-of-the-year assessment of where they stand in all performance areas – and detailed guidance on how to improve. They are not checklists for classroom visits. To knowledgeably fill out the rubrics, supervisors need to have been in classrooms frequently throughout the year. It is irresponsible to fill out the rubrics based on one classroom observation. Unannounced mini-observations every 2-3 weeks followed by face-to-face conversations are the best way for supervisors to have an accurate sense of teachers’ performance, give ongoing praise and suggestions, and listen to concerns. For a detailed account of the development of these rubrics and their broader purpose, see Kim Marshall’s book, Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation.,%2011.pdf

    • Linda174

      I think what we are missing in CT is the build collaboration and trust part. This year has been all about PROVING, not improving. When 16-18 hours are spent creating, documenting, performing and evaluating ONE 44 minute lesson something is wrong. That doesn’t even include one to two more formal observations, two to three informal observations, two focus areas, two student learning objectives and one school wide goal and all with artifacts to prove your worth. Kids are now props for the education industrial complex: the testing industry and the teacher reduction, oops evaluation, program.

      Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation: How to Work Smart, Build Collaboration, and Close the Achievement Gap

      • Charlie Puffers

        Administrators who have little classroom experience and/or prefer ass-kissing to the art of collaborating to support teachers and students – and we’ve all met them – need to go.

  • Charlie Puffers

    Is there anything sadder than a first grade teacher afraid of reading to her class? Its time to get rid of Pryor and find a commissioner that has been a lifelong educator with classroom teaching experience and for politicians like Malloy to stop dissing and bullying teachers to make a name for themselves. Thank you Wendy and Jon for telling the truth about our schools. People finally seem to be paying attention.

    • Jane Doe

      A commissioner who actually likes teachers and children. <3

      • Charlie Puffers


  • Mary Gallucci

    Amen, Wendy Lecker.
    Repeal the ed reforms; develop programs that will truly improve our schools.
    That is my new mantra.

  • David Lynch Topitzer

    Thank you. Thank you. This is so true.