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Iwanicki focuses teacher evaulations
on outcome not impact
September 28, 1998

What makes a good teacher? Too often, a clean floor, a neat desk and a well-lit classroom were the measures used to evaluate teachers when Ed Iwanicki was a high school chemistry teacher in the 1960s..

"Even now, the evaluation process focuses too much on what teachers are doing and not enough on what students are learning," says Iwanicki, a professor of educational leadership. "If teacher evaluation is to be meaningful and productive, it should focus on improving aspects of teaching that strengthen or enhance students' learning in some way."

Since the early 1970s, administrators in public schools have talked about using student learning in the evaluation of teaching, he says. But there were no good procedures for doing this. Iwanicki developed some guidelines in the early 1980s for an approach to teacher evaluation that is more focused on learning, by integrating the evaluation with staff development and the school improvement process.

Through the school improvement process, teachers and their principals identify target areas where they want to improve student learning. The staff development process is used to help teachers acquire or sharpen the skills they need to improve student learning in those areas. The teacher evaluation process is used to determine whether teachers are implementing these skills effectively in the classroom and to monitor the impact on student learning.

Using Iwanicki's approach, school staff meet at the beginning of the school year to analyze test scores, look at homework assignments or examine other data that give them an insight as to where incoming students need to improve. Once the students' learning needs are identified, a school improvement plan is developed and implemented that includes provisions for staff development and teacher evaluation..

"This approach has caught on," he says, "because it makes sense to teachers and administrators."

The state of Louisiana adopted Iwanicki's approach when the state legislature decided that the evaluation process they had been using was not in the best interest of students.

"This way of evaluating teachers is meaningful to students because it will guarantee that they will receive instruction which provides rich learning experiences," says Mari Ann Fowler, assistant superintendent in the Louisiana Department of Education's Office of Quality Educators. "It is important for us to assess teachers on teaching what students should be learning and making sure that the learning is happening. That is worth more than just seeing how effectively teachers manage their classrooms or do the planning or know their content."

The Farmington public school system is one of several school districts in Connecticut that also use this approach. "The reason we are doing this is because the only way we know if anything we do really matters is if kids are learning," says Diane Ullman, assistant superintendent in Farmington. "An evaluation system that does not pay attention to student results is measuring the wrong thing.".

Many teachers, says Ullman, "cross their fingers and say, 'I taught. I hope they learned.' That doesn't happen in our system. All teachers must show that their students have learned and show how that happened."

Farmington and Louisiana have worked closely with teachers to change classroom practice so they can deliver instruction that promotes learning. In Louisiana, Fowler's office has begun to work with colleges and universities to get them to understand the evaluation process so they can better prepare future teachers.

Erin Murray, a former special education teacher in Farmington, says her approach to teaching was to move students through the curriculum without looking at student learning. "I was focused on getting the material to the kids in a certain period of time," says Murray, who is now an assistant principal at Irving Robbins Middle School in Farmington. "The change in the teaching evaluation gave me and other teachers an opportunity to guarantee that our students are getting something worthwhile out of our classrooms, by focusing on improving student learning through the curriculum."

Some teachers get caught up in teaching the curriculum and fault the student when learning does not occur, says Kelly Lyman, principal of Farmington's Noah Wallace School.

"Too often, teachers are steeped in traditional methods," Lyman says. "They are worried about getting through the curriculum and teaching everything that is in the book. And they forget what teaching really is -- understanding your students' needs and helping them learn."

Luis Mocete