Improving Observer Training: The Trends and Challenges

carnegieObservations of teacher performance are a critical component of most teacher evaluation systems, and, if done well, they can help teachers better understand and improve their practice. Yet, as critical as observations are to ensuring quality instruction, not much is known about how districts are training and supporting their observers. This report examines recent research on observer training and investigates how five districts across the country are preparing observers to conduct accurate, reliable, and useful observations.

The report, from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, takes into account recent research on observer training and data from a sampling of five districts: Boston, MA; the District of Columbia; Santa Fe, NM; Maricopa County, AZ; and New Haven, CT.

While evaluation measures based on student test scores have garnered the most public attention, measures based on observation—watching and rating teachers’ classroom performance in real time—remain the most important component of teacher evaluation systems. The oldest and most common approach to assessing teaching, observation allows an evaluator to make a direct, specific assessment of instruction in context and as it occurs. Done well, observations provide precise, timely, and actionable feedback that helps teachers understand and improve their practice. And, unlike measures of student achievement, districts can use well-designed and -executed classroom observations to evaluate all teachers irrespective of grade level or subject.

An evaluation system that is designed to support and improve teacher practice— rather than simply to assess and manage teacher performance—would have as its foundation effective and reliable pro­cesses to observe classroom practice and give teachers useful feedback. Such an improvement-focused evaluation system should be aligned with and contribute to a district-wide system that includes a shared definition of teacher quality, a clear set of district priorities, and a co­herent strategy for improving teacher practice.

This report offers several suggestions on how to improve the practice of observation so that it gives teachers valuable feedback and continues to offer suggestions for increased teacher effectiveness.

For more information on specific trends and data, read the full report here.

For the other two reports in the series, see the first report brief: Evaluating Teachers More Strategically: Using Performance Results to Streamline Evaluation Systems, and the second: Adding Eyes: The Rise, Rewards, and Risks of Multi-Rater Teacher Observation Systems.