Archive Hosted by the AFL-CIO

Tuesday Talk: How should Minnesota evaluate teachers?

March 01, 2011 By Joe Sheeran, Communications Director

We’ve put so much pressure on teachers to improve student achievement; however, we’ve yet to devise a fair and accurate teacher evaluation mechanism. Conservatives want to tie performance to a standardized test score, which only provide a snapshot of achievement without feedback on what’s effective. Education Minnesota recommends policymakers consider a system that combines a multitude of in-class assessments, test scores, peer observations, and professional portfolios. What’s your take?

What’s the best way to evaluate teacher performance in Minnesota? 

Thanks for participating! Commenting on this conversation is now closed.


  • Carol Wilts says:

    March 1, 2011 at 9:23 am

    We do not assess students using a single tool, we look at the whole child and use multiple instruments to ensure reliability. Teachers should be assessed in the same way.

  • Bryan Joyce says:

    March 1, 2011 at 9:29 am

    I tend to agree with Education Minnesota on this topic. The old system of no checks and balances once tenure has been granted is not viable. However, a system reliant solely on test scores does not tell the whole story either. Teachers, like any professional, need feedback on their performance to improve skills and improve student learning. Frequent observation of classroom performance and student learning using formative assessment is a must. Not a one time/year snap shot of learning - but timely and formative assessment that shows if students are actually learning essential outcomes in a particular teachers class, and if not what is the teacher doing to ensure that all students are are learning the essential outcomes.

  • KJC says:

    March 1, 2011 at 9:32 am

    Do read the story in the Minneapolis paper today about how “teacher evaluations” were done before unions.  It’s on page A9, in it 90 year old Esther Babiracki recounts what it was like to teach back in that era.  She was there, and lived that life… I say nothing beats first person testimony.  You might find it insightful, including her review of the Wisconsin situation which she is watching closely.  Just the beginning of a great conversation, I hope!

  • S. Nelson says:

    March 1, 2011 at 9:41 am

    I am part a system that combines professional development with tracking of student growth for our teacher evaluations.  It includes showing evidence to a team of peers and administrators that you have implemented the professional growth skills into your pedagogy of teaching and that you tracked how those new skills affected student growth in your classroom.  A final part of the evaluation is looking at and teaching teachers to reflect on their daily teaching practices.

    The Idea works if it is come at from a standpoint of helping and guiding.  If it is set up as a punitive measure it will be met with much resistance.  Most teachers are wanting to become better at what they do and will buy in to a program that is truly professional and helps them improve and not just jump through hoops.

  • Dr. Hugh Curtler says:

    March 1, 2011 at 9:56 am

    I agree with Bryan on this. If we regard evaluations as a way of improving teaching (rather than a punitive measure to weed out the poor teachers) teachers will not feel it so much a threat. But variety is the key. Student evaluations—if tied to grades—can be helpful, along with peer evaluations and tracking to see if the students are learning. More is better. No one person or small group should hold the key.

  • C Hoag says:

    March 1, 2011 at 9:56 am

    How about determining how we should all evaluate postmen, school board members, plumbers, electricians, resort owners, road workers, railroad workers, miners, newsmen, waste workers and all the other careers that we all count on everyday?  Why don’t I see posts wanting to know whether they should take pay freezes and whether they should be fired when everything isn’t perfect with their products and services?

    Why do we think we have the right to determine whether teachers are earning their pay, doing a great job, etc. when most of the public have not been in a classroom since they were in school as a student.  They don’t have a clue what teachers do, how much time and their own money they invest, the challenges they face, and the limitations and parameters within which they must teach.

    I’ll bet you’d be hard pressed to find a group of workers who donate more of their own time and resources to enhancing the quality of their work and the lives of those they serve. Why, then, do we spend so much of our time and effort finding fault and judging them?  Perhaps we should be looking at ourselves instead.

  • KJC says:

    March 1, 2011 at 10:03 am

    I think the look-in-the-mirror-request is reasonable.  And we might find?  As the old saying goes: “We have seen the enemy, and he is us.”

  • kathy wilmes says:

    March 1, 2011 at 10:07 am

    I have a hard time with this question, mostly because of my experiences with my youngest child, who had a hard time with math and science.  Not factual-based subject matter, you understand; that he breezed through, but conceptual concepts that required him to put an object(s)in time and space and evaluate them according to mathematic/scientific principles.  The student of whom I am speaking took the math MCAs four times (he was only required to take them thrice, but did not want to register a “NP” on his transcript, and so took them a fourth time), only to fail in every attempt.
    There are those who blame his lack of success on the school district of residence, and the math/science staff there.  I am not one of those people.  I cannot blame myself or my husband either; we attended countless meetings with school staff and got testing for our student through the Mayo Clinic in order to address his situation.  I do, however, wonder why students such as our son cannot receive specialized help in order to address an obvious weakness and propose a solution that he/she can apply throughout his/her lifetime (our son has withdrawn from his first attempt at remedial math and is strugglng in his second attempt, for lack of these skills)?  Our district of residence tried thrice to enroll him as a special needs student, to no avail because overall his grades were good (remove his math and science scores and he would have graduated with a solid 3.2 average).  My husband and I, therefore, were stuck teaching our student how best to instinctively know when he was lost, and to receive help as he needed it, which he is beginning to apply now as a college student. 
    Ultimately, to answer the question you propose, I believe that it is nearly impossible to evaluate teachers, as you propose, without first addressing, throughly and without equivocation, the true needs/strengths of the students that make up that classroom.  Only then will you have an accurate assessment of teacher success.

  • Paul Schumacher says:

    March 1, 2011 at 10:15 am

    The law makers should be evaluated first, and often, like monthly.

    They scream accountability all the time, but they are not accountable when they do not represent the people. their basic function as representatives. 

    How are they supporting education????

    Next evaluate CEO’s of the corporations that influence our lawmakers.  What are their corporations contributing to educational success, and to an economic climate that provides good jobs to our educated kids.

    Next evaluate the basic causes of educational failure.  Poverty which affects educational performance, hope of success in the workplace, etc ???
    What are our lawmakers doing to improve the educational environment(financial support, positive encouragement, etc. )? 

    Teachers are made the scapegoats of problems created by the lawmakers!

    Teachers are best evaluated by their peers, provided evaluations are not tied to things like “Merit pay”, but aimed at improving performance.

    Paul Schumacher

  • Cookie says:

    March 1, 2011 at 10:17 am

    I am a firm believer in an accurate value-added measure, which relies on test scores, but compares each student to their own past scores.  That, in conjunction with assessing teachers via classroom observation, which could even be done via webcam, provides a better image for how a teacher teaches.

  • Bill Hamm says:

    March 1, 2011 at 10:25 am

    Kathy, your entire analysis is wrong. Under the true “Liberal Arts Education” system we had, before this socialist failure we have now, your child would have been able to excell where he or she was good. They would have gotten the extra help they needed, if not from the teacher, then from a fellow student doing well in that subject. Both teachers and curriculum were trustable because the competative system we had then evaluated both on an ongoing and constant basis. Teachers Unions only want more pay, they do not want any valid teacher evaluation process in place and have fought said efforts for more than 20 years now, after 15 years of hard work to undermine what we had.

  • kathy wilmes says:

    March 1, 2011 at 10:46 am


    My student did receive help:

    1.  Teachers working with him planned after school and prep hours to work with him.
    2.  For one quarter in the sophomore year, testing was done in another room where he was allowed to ask questions that would stimulate his mind to find the correct answer on its own.  Under that, his grade improved from a Dt to a B-.  But at the start of his junior year, because he did not qualify for help, this measure was discontinued and his grades slipped back to a D level.

    I appreciate your comments, but there has got to be a better way to address the needs of our students than to say that teachers are simply not doing their job.

  • Nancy Johnson says:

    March 1, 2011 at 10:54 am

    In addition to test scores, peer observations, student reviews and professional portfolios, a new tool for outside evaluation of pre-K - 3rd grade teachers is gaining acceptance. Developed by researchers at the University of Virginia and validated in over 3,000 diverse classrooms across the country, the CLASS™ focuses on teacher-child interactions which have been linked to student outcomes. The CLASS™ also links professional development through on-line coaching based on the assessment tool.

    For more information about both the PreK and K-3 versions of CLASS™, visit: .

    The University of Minnesota’s Center for Early Education and Development supports CLASS™-related needs for projects across Minnesota, offering both training and professional development. More information on CLASS is available on the CEED website:

  • James Holden says:

    March 1, 2011 at 11:16 am

    Though I think multiple methods should be used, I’m a firm believer in a mentoring program in which a peer (perhaps a paid teacher advisor) and a principal collaborate in an evaluation of the teacher.  Both visit the classroom then sit down with the teacher to assess his/her performance (based on particular rubrics of teaching) and together establish growth targets for the teacher.  In subsequent visits to the classroom, if those targets are not met and the teacher is deemed to be unqualified to teach, it is of course then the responsibility of the principal to make that decision.

  • Mark Freeman says:

    March 1, 2011 at 11:17 am

    This is one of those topics/questions that will compound us forever.  The problem that is entrenched in this situation is two-fold; 1) A students socio-economic environment will have a direct result on the students overall acheivement level, and 2) each student is an individual with different personalities, as well as styles of learning which will have an affect on that person’s acheivement level.

    I have seen this from the standpoint of our two sons, one grew up with primarily just his mother, and our other son who grew up with both mother and father, but had his learning ability made more difficult through his diagnosis of autism.

    Although both children had different adverse issues, the child with both parents made higher acheivement, mainly due to having two parents involved, and two incomes did make for a huge advantage for our one son.

    Above all I must say that ALL children are individuals, and will acheive their own level of educational expertise, and to place a standard dized judgement on all teachers does a disservice to those in the profession.

    I think if two teachers are judged equally, and one comes from a very economically affluent district, while the other is teaching a group of disadvantaged and homeless students, which group do you feel would be a higher acheiving group?

  • Lonni Skrentner says:

    March 1, 2011 at 11:17 am

    Some form of 360 degree evaluation is best in my opinion.  Students, parents, peers and administration should all weigh in.  Plus self- reflection of the type used for National Board certification would be good - all of which is time consuming and fairly expensive.  Test scores are a very small part of success, especially since few areas have test scores!

  • kathy wilmes says:

    March 1, 2011 at 11:19 am


    In our son’s particular case, he qualified for ECSE (Early Childhood Special Education) starting at age 2 for a variety of reasons; hearing and speech delays (which our school district of residence and teachers were instrumental in getting him qualified for) and fine motor delays.  Because of our son’s hard work, he was found to be keeping up with his peers and, at grade 2, was disqualified from the program. 
    Not to be a cynic, but in my experiences as a parent of special needs children (our son’s older sister was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in 1998), I have found that, if there is a reason not to qualify someone, that person will usually find it and use it.  It took my husband and I two long years to qualify my daughter for county help (the state of Minnesota actually considered her disabled before we could get anywhere with the county).  Until this changes, and we accept our kids for what they are and give them the tools they need to succeed, you can put the best teachers in front of them and it will make no difference.  As I said before, we must touch our students first, then teaching will follow

  • myles spicer says:

    March 1, 2011 at 11:43 am

    Whatever evaluation systime is used has to take into account geaographical differences in the schools. A rural school is far different from a suburban school, which is far different than an inner city school.

    My daughter has taught in the (inner) Minneapolis School district for about 20 years. She has issues other districts do not face Among them: language problems…diversity…parenting and more.

    She loves her job, but recently—on her own hard earned money and night school—is completing a Masters Degree. Now that investment is in doubt. The fact is, we lack respect for teachers and their efforts; and it is beginning to show internationally and within our society.  Until that respect is regained, funding will continue to be a fight, and our nation will be the worse for it.

  • Dan says:

    March 1, 2011 at 11:51 am

    The current trend for teacher evaluations carry a strong link to student achievement.  And there should be a connection, but it should be one of only several sources of data used.  Student achievement rests equally heavy upon the student, parents, school district, and local community.  To hold teachers alone responsible for educational success or failure will never produce the desired results.  We will not achieve the optimal success that is desired, until all the stakeholders begin to work together as a team. No one member of a team is solely responsible for the success or failure of a team. We could do much better if rather than pointing fingers, we all rolled up our sleeves and did what we could to promote a community of support and a cultural value for quality education.

  • Bernice Vetsch says:

    March 1, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    C Hoag:  Why do we treat teachers this way?

    Because it’s all part of the more than 30-year effort to kill unions.  Killing teachers’ unions would bring a double “win” to those who want unions to go away.  They would strike a blow against all public unions and thus find it easier to outspend candidates who support workers’ rights. They would also drive down wages and benefits. Watch the war against public workers in Wisconsin for a good example of what the anti-union effort is trying to do in every state.

    They would also strike a blow against the public school system that has educated all our children for over a hundred years to make way for privately operated charter schools run by “foundations” whose motives may be religious or economic or who-knows-what. 

    Teacher evaluation should be left to the kind of system proposed by Education Minnesota.  Fair rather than punitive.

  • Julie Holmen says:

    March 1, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    I believe Minnesota has a crisis in educational leadership. Having spent 38 years teaching at preschool through secondary levels in Mn, .and previously integrating schools in the south and as Peace Corps teacher trainer in the Caribbean,  I’m pained by the power of school principals and state and federal regulations to stifle outstanding teaching.  Twice in my teaching career I hired attorneys to deal with urban and suburban principals who challenged my authority to do what was best for the children in my class and their families. (One principal wanted to skirt special education law!)  I am not some freak, having received an Ashland Oil Teacher recognition award for excellence in teaching.  I relied on my advanced training and my passion that each child deserved best practices standards, not the hype on some principal’s personal or political agenda.  We know what works in schools.  We have the research.  I call on teacher unions, lawmakers,  school administrators and teaching institutions to adopt and fund best practices standards.I would probably not have earned merit pay from half of the Mn. principals I worked under, however the parents of my regular and special education students expressed deep gratitude with my professionalism,  commitment and the opportunity I created for their children. Likewise, strong mentoring programs like those utilized in Asian countries are recommended.

  • Daniel M Fix says:

    March 1, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    I think it is extreamly difficult to evaluate teachers because of the many variables involved beyond their control.  But basicly if you want to find out if the kids are learning something you have to measure them at the start of the school year, at the end, and then correct for skewing factors like age, intellegence, social adeptness, ect. of the students.  I do not hear much about the non school learning environment where most of the kids live most of there lives.  All the teachers in the world will not make up for a household of dumb, ignorant, undisciplined, crazy, illiterate, lazey, preoccupied, addicted, absent, uncooperative, disrespectful, working, and/or distracted family members or care givers.  It seems to be too politically correct to acknoweledge that kids learn most of the stuff they know from there families and care givers, not school teachers.  What we need is a public grading system for the care giving structure for the children. Then assign our resources there. 

    One of the great losses of the school systems since I was a child is the loss of civics.  How do you solve your problems with in our democratic system of government?  Respect for the rule of law by the majority with minority rights?  How do you vote and select a candidate for public office?  How do you detect a dishonest public or private official?

  • kathy wilmes says:

    March 1, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    I agree

  • kathy wilmes says:

    March 1, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    I agree totally.  For example, how many parents do you know about who send notes to the teacher at the very beginning of the year to outline what to expect of their student?  I can’t be the only one to do this.  We need to work side by side, starting at the beginning or nothing works

  • William says:

    March 1, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Athletic coaches, who are passionate about their sports, are the very best examples of what I would call “master teachers.”  Good coaches know their subject matter and constantly update their “playbook.” They are devoted to their students and staff as well as being excellent motivators.  They thoroughly scout their opponents, analyze video of over-all “team” and staff performance, give appropriate and timely feedback to players/students, and; of course, allow regular transparent observation of the students/players in action.  Results are recorded and tracked by the entire community.  Improvement of basic skills and execution is expected weekly. “Being prepared to win” is the fuel that drives the program.  “Winning it all” is the ultimate destination.

    Americans love to win and hate losing.  Therefore, successful programs are rewarded and failing programs are severely scrutinized.

    My idea is easy to implement because we already have a model that works:      I suggest that we have academic contests between schools similar to what is done for sports competition within the Minnesota High School League.  Schools are categorized by enrollment and area and compete against similar sized schools in their area.  The best advance to sectional, and eventually, to the state championships.  The “top” performing teams/students/schools receive awards and recognition.  The teachers receive merit pay which comes from receipts, concessions, advertising, and state/federal subsidies.

  • Deb says:

    March 1, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    I agree with all the comments of teachers continuing to update skills, but this is no different than what every other licensed professional should do. However, coming from a family of teachers and other school district employees, my thought is that if you have a bad teacher in a school, you more than likely have a bad principal. It is part of a principal’s job to honestly evaluate their staff (from many angles). If a teacher is falling down somewhere, it is the principal’s job to pair them with a mentor or steer them to the appropriate help. If the teacher still fails, then they should be encouraged to seek different employment. If a principal fails to do there job, they can be encouraged to do the same.

  • Gordy says:

    March 1, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    My wife just retired from the St. Paul Public School system after 40 years of teaching elementary grades. If you want to track performance, track the student, not the teacher! A kid cannot get any continuity if they change schools 2-3 times per year. In center city, they have to suffer through family issues that cause them to move (job loss, parents divorcing, immigration, learning English, etc.) The magnet schools in St. Paul got the support staff to do the job and that is the model to follow.

  • Andy says:

    March 1, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    I disagree. To take the position that only the children from caring homes with involved parents can be educated is defeatist. We can’t afford as a society to give up on these children. Teach America, Kips schools have proven that they can be taught from poverty & crime ridden neighborhoods. Our education system has to adapt to the techniques that are working in troubled schools not continue on doing what is failing. A good example would be putting our top teachers in the troubled schools, & pay them extra, instead using seniority rules to keep them out of the troubled schools. Over half of minority students failing to graduate is unacceptable!

  • Laura LaBlanc says:

    March 1, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    When we take our children to the clinic for a sore throat, doctors rely on research and their practical experience to diagnosis and treat them. We don’t ask “how do we evaluate the doctor?” We certainly don’t make our children unprotected human subjects in a large scale clinical study as we are currently doing in our failed education reform efforts. Why don’t we have the roots of experience, research and precedent built into education? We know what works in education: small school settings that allow education to be in the context of community, culture and history; a setting that demonstrates hope and vision for our children’s future; collaborative learning techniques; and a rigorous curriculum. When we build what we know works, teachers will be evaluated by their level of motivation and skill to deliver what is needed from them. Right now we seem to be asking teachers to deliver poorly designed education in poorly designed settings. Looking to measure teacher success and student success in this environment is flawed. Humans are like all living organisms. When we grow in an unhealthy environment, we get unhealthy outcomes. No testing or evaluation is going to change this.

  • Tim Jones says:

    March 1, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    To C. Hoag

    Thank you, for your comments.  How do you evaluate a teacher:
    1.  Are they still passionate about their job?
    2. Do they still care to teach children?
    3. Do they teach the curriculum assigned to them by the head of the school district, and make the material relevant, authentic, and understandable to students?
    4. Do they come to work knowing that all children can learn even if all children can not learn everything - just as not all adults can learn everything?
    5. And finally would they still be willing to do the job even in the political climate that we have now?

  • Alec says:

    March 2, 2011 at 8:58 am

    Value added tests certainly are better than one shot snapshots, but they still miss the mark at least 25% of the time. A value added test can grade a teacher from good one year to bad the next and back to good.

    We use value added tests in our schools. Students take the test three times in a year, and are judged on improvement.

    To see how hard it is ti use even these, ponder the following hypothetical example.

    A teacher has two classes being tested. Same course. Same schedule. Both classes pull from the same population of underprivileged kids.

    Class A: These kids achieved 150% of their expected growth in math. They overachieved expectations. However, in their reading classes, these same kids achieved 200% of expected growth! So did the math teacher underachieve the reading teachers? Good or bad teacher? Or did this class just happen to collect some very hard working students?

    Class B: This class only achieved 90% of expected growth. It was close, but they underachieved. Failure? Well, this group of kids only achieved 20% of expected growth in their reading classes. It turns our that these kids did almost nothing for other teachers, but almost made it in math.

    So, same teacher, same year, same course, two different classes performing very differently.

    One class makes growth but under performs other teachers.

    One class misses growth, but outperforms other teachers.

    Some years, by luck of the draw, a teacher may just get a hard bunch to work with. Some years they get the overachievers.

  • Gary says:

    March 2, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    That works great as long as the teacher gets to choose the students just like coaches choose their team.  Teachers in public schools do not choose who walks in the door.

  • Christy says:

    March 2, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    William, that is a great idea in theory, but the difference is, those athletes WANT to be there.  As a math teacher, I have had taught remedial math classes. I do everything that you outlined that the coach does, only most of those kids do not want to be there.  It is a difficult situation, and forcing these kids to take math just makes many of them angry.  On the other end of the spectrum, I help coach Math League.  These kids are ridiculed and labeled as nerds more than they are celebrated.  Again, great idea in theory, but in all reality, it’s not applicable in the world of mathematics instruction.

  • Robert H. Heise says:

    March 3, 2011 at 2:47 am

    I see it quite simply, observe us as often as you want. If we promote learning and independent thought, that’s a good start. However, the only true assessment is how the student grows intellectually and socially throughout the term. You can test, interview, observe, but what matters is the child or young person. Their growth within that time period is what matters most. There are different abilities and environemnts, it’s how we, the teachers, are able to promote personal growth along with or despite these obstacles that makes us educators and separates us from everyone else. That’s my opinion, anyway.

  • Bruce says:

    March 4, 2011 at 8:20 am

    I do consulting and teaching in the private sector on performance management. I can report that even where the inputs to a process are more standardized—common materials rather than a diverse student body—and where productivity, at least on a group basis, is more easily measured, many merit pay and reward systems are terribly flawed and do more harm than good.  For an evidence based analysis see

    This doesn’t mean that all attempts to measure performance are bad.  In the private sector there is increasing use of “360 degree evaluation” where employees are measured by a survey of managers, peers, and the people they manage.  That method seems to provide more valuable feedback.

    But the other problem with systems of performance evaluation comes from the way the evaluations are used.  If performance management is seen as competitive, then we are guaranteed to have some losers.  But an alternative—that compensates some for flawed instruments of measurement—is to use measures to focus attention on some top performers and ask what enables that performance.  Then the evaluation can guide action to create similar conditions and promote successful strategies for all.  See my blog summary of a useful example reported originally in the New York Times magazine:

  • Carol White says:

    April 13, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    The idea of having schools compete with each other in learning accomplishments as they do in sports sounds like a good idea.  I think it would foster kids’ desire to learn.
    Abolish nationally or state imposed tests to evaluate how a school - and each individual is learning.  They do not measure real learning.  If a teacher didn’t have to only “teach to the test”, he/she would be able to use their own creativity to draw learning out of students.