Thing #1: Her Majesty’s Inspector

Note: The opinion expressed below is meant to provoke discussion and is not necessarily (or at least not entirely) one I espouse.

Though there are profound implications for what I’m about to talk about re student assessment and evaluation, I going to restrict my comments here to Teacher Performance Appraisals. Applying a similar logic to what I write below with respect to student achievement will be dealt with in a subsequent post.

To begin let’s define a couple of terms which are often confusing to the lay observer (let alone teachers). First let’s distinguish between assessment and evaluation and draw a connection with more or less equivalent terms that are, while older, perhaps a bit more comprehensible.

Assessment, to borrow from the Growing Success document published by the Ontario Government:

… is the process of gathering information that accurately reflects how well a student is achieving the curriculum expectations in a subject or course. The primary purpose of assessment is to improve student learning. Assessment for the purpose of improving student learning is seen as both “assessment for learning” and “assessment as learning”. As part of assessment for learning, teachers provide students with descriptive feedback and coaching for improvement. Teachers engage in assessment as learning by helping all students develop their capacity to be independent, autonomous learners who are able to set individual goals, monitor their own progress, determine next steps, and reflect on their thinking and learning (27)

Here we can see the teacher acting as mentor giving feedback to improve student achievement. To put it in a nutshell: Assessment is a formative process. Indeed, until recently it was referred to as “formative assessment” or “formative evaluation”

We’ve known or suspected for a long time… a really, really long time… that the person who acts as your mentor should not be the same person who evaluates your performance with respect to hiring, firing, or promotion. Phrased in yesterday’s eduspeak: the person conducting your formative evaluation should not be the same person conducting your summative evaluation. The person assessing learning should not be the same person evaluating learning.

This is an issue long recognized by the International Baccalaureate Organization and the College Board (who run the Advanced Placement exams) and indeed pretty much every organization running standardized exams. To whit, there is an inherent conflict of interest between the demands of formative and summative assessment. The person giving formative assessment has an investment in getting the student “across the line”. The summative assessor does not. Indeed, the demands of each may be mutually antagonistic.  Thus, IB/AP exams are not assessed by the student’s teacher but by a disinterested third party – in IB’s case, a hemisphere away. Yet, within the confines of the Teacher Appraisal Process there is no recognition of this fact.

So, let’s substitute the word “teacher” for the word “student” as the subject for the comments above. The Principal is supposed to mentor the teacher, to give formative assessment to ensure their progress and growth as professional educators. But this conflicts with their “hiring/firing” role as summative assessors. Also, the assessment is often coloured/informed by the personal relationship of the two parties involved. Whether this is positive or negative is beside the point: it shouldn’t be.

So here’s an idea. Constrain site based admin to the formative aspects of the TPA process and bring back Her Majesty’s Inspectors (or non-monarchist equivalent) to handle the summative. A functionary whose sole role is to summatively assess teachers (and admin). There are distinct advantages to this proposal. 1) They would/should be specifically trained for the role – rather than the pro forma training of school admin so often found in school Districts. 2) They would not be faced with the internal contradictions of the formative/summative dichotomy. Indeed, they would not have any vested interest in the result. 3) They would/should standardize a process which has about as many formats as there are educational Boards/Districts. 4) They would ensure equity (and more importantly, perceived equity) in the TPA process.