Teacher learning is inextricably linked with student learning. In order to do my job well, I need constant feedback, support, data, and opportunities for reflection. According to a MinnCAN study nearly 90 percent of teachers in Minnesota agree with me. As a teacher, I see teacher evaluation as crucial to recruiting, retaining, and supporting the highest-quality teachers, which is why I believe we must ensure strong implementation of evaluation state-wide. To do that, we must look at best practices already happening in schools and ensure adequate funding to truly support teacher development. In order to recruit, retain, and support the highest-quality teachers, the Minnesota Legislature must proceed with plans to implement the teacher evaluation system state-wide.
For too many years, professional development for Minnesota teachers has not been based on classroom data. Instead, it was based on school improvement plans to support large scale testing goals that were fairly removed from actual instructional practices. Minneapolis Public Schools, where I teach, is leading the state when it comes to designing an evaluation system that gives educators feedback on job performance. Our district’s Teacher Evaluation Advisory Group, with leadership from our union, started planning implementation of our evaluation system almost two years ago and has included teachers and principals in the process from the beginning.
In 2012, I was lucky to partake in the unique opportunity of being part of the founding teacher team for the first new school in MPS in 40 years. With strong teacher leaders and a visionary principal, we designed a system where professional practices are valued, expected, and supported. I teach in a school where our principal and teacher leaders use self reported inventories about their strengths and areas of needs, classroom teacher observation data, as well as student achievement data to plan professional development. Never before in my 13 years in teaching have I experienced more relevant professional learning. All teachers and students in Minnesota should have the benefit of the same data-driven professional development system as we do at Ramsey Middle School.
A teacher evaluation system is a consistent way to provide regular feedback for every teacher. According to the professional learning standards from Learning Forward, data from multiple sources affords informed decisions about professional learning that leads to increased results for every student. Data sources could include quantitative and qualitative data, performance assessment data, observation data, student work samples, teacher assignment samples, and student self-assessment data. In addition, data can be used by school leadership as feedback for individual teachers, for teams of teachers who share students in common, or as aggregate data for the whole school to target strengths and needs of teachers.
Teacher evaluation costs money, of course. Gov. Dayton asked the legislature for $10 million to begin statewide implementation, but the education budget he signed included just $683,000 to fund pilot programs for teacher evaluation. State funds earmarked for professional development as well as Q-Comp program funds can and should be used to support teacher evaluation and professional learning. A teacher evaluation supports crucial job-embedded development that can yield excellent results for students and better teacher retention. Schools need to be places where teacher learning is supported and prioritized just as much as student learning.
Holly Kragthorpe teaches seventh graders at Ramsey Middle School in Minneapolis, where she is a union steward for Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, a school captain for Educators 4 Excellence, and a teacher blogging fellow for MinnCAN.