Opinion

THE PODIUM | Teacher evaluations are a vital tool — not a political football

Author: Tory Tripp - June 14, 2018 - Updated: June 14, 2018

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Tory Tripp

The Colorado primary to elect our next governor on June 26 is fast approaching. As a teacher, I am glad to see that education has emerged as a leading issue, with Colorado’s educator evaluation law (also known as SB10-191) in particular becoming a point of debate among several candidates. With this issue surfacing in debates, TV ads, and in other conversations, I believe more context and a teacher’s perspective is needed.

It’s important to understand why we conduct educator evaluations in Colorado and how it benefits teachers, principals and, most importantly, children. It’s also important to thoughtfully consider what would happen to an education system in which evaluations didn’t take place.

First and foremost, a teacher’s job is to help students grow. In Colorado, we’ve developed sophisticated systems to measure student growth year by year. As an educator, I want part of my evaluation to be based on how successful I’ve been in helping my students make academic gains.

I also want the kind of concrete and specific feedback on my teaching that can only come from being observed in my classroom by a peer I trust and respect.

That’s why it has baffled me over the years when our teacher evaluation law has been referred to as anti-teacher. What teacher doesn’t want to see students improve academically? Who doesn’t benefit from being observed and then receiving feedback about their performance?

It sends a troubling message when educators and policymakers argue that teachers shouldn’t be evaluated based on the growth of their students. They seem to be saying that students at high-needs schools come from such challenging circumstances that teachers shouldn’t be held accountable for their students’ academic performance.

It’s an insulting argument: Insulting to the teachers, to the students, and to their families.

In my experience, having someone observe my teaching on a regular basis and then provide constructive feedback has been extremely helpful. I’m competitive with myself by nature and I always want to do better. I know I work hard and do my best, but at times it takes an outside perspective to help me understand where I have weaknesses that need shoring up.

It’s hard for me to envision an education system where rigorous teacher evaluations didn’t exist. A system with lowered expectations and accountability for professional performance would undoubtedly lead to complacency among some in the profession. It’s human nature and something nearly all employees face, regardless of industry or profession.

Being evaluated can be uncomfortable at times. But it’s hugely important to individual teachers, to students, and to the education system as a whole.

Is our current evaluation system in Colorado perfect? Not by any means. The paperwork can be onerous and discrepancies among evaluators can lead to misleading results. We can and should continuously work to improve the system rather than eliminate it.

As a committed professional educator, I would be dismayed if our teacher evaluation system got watered down because of sound-bite politics. We need a system that gives teachers concrete feedback to help them improve, and bases their career advancement on the quality of their work rather than their years of service.

Tory Tripp

Tory Tripp

Tory Tripp is a teacher in Denver Public Schools and a Teach Plus Colorado policy fellow alumnus.