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Sunday, January 8, 2012

A NYC teacher's observations on how the Danielson rubrics are being (mis)used

One thing that the DOE and the UFT seem to have agreed upon is that the instructional framework developed by consultant Charlotte Danielson is potentially useful and constructive, though they disagree about how these rubrics are being used to evaluate teachers currently in NYC schools. Below are the observations of one teacher about how the Danielson rubric is being applied in his school.

I'm an English teacher at a NYC high school.   There are several major problems with the way the Charlotte Danielson rubrics are being used and misused.  Here are some that I have observed at our school.

We have an AP who is unqualified to do these observations.  Hitherto, he has overseen budgeting and technology and has never been involved with instruction.  He is now being told to do observations because the principal is unable to do them all.  In his feedback to teachers, he has demonstrated a lack of understanding of basic instructional strategies and has not been able to provide suggested improvements to accompany his critiques.

Other problems we are seeing I imagine are more universal across the city.  For one, administrators are being pressured to do (and to document) far more observations this year.  Previously, informal observations weren't written up, now they are.  As a result, observations of only 5 or 10 minutes (out of an 80 minute class) are being used to characterize a teacher's ability.

Story one: We have a new teacher and three people walked into her class and observed her for five minutes (during the starter, aka "do now") and then left.  Her observation report cited her for insufficiently interacting with the students, yet made no consideration for the fact that this was a time for independent student work by design. This is a very hard-working and devoted teacher and afterwards she was visibly upset.  Again, they watched the first 5 minutes of an 80 minute lesson and made sweeping conclusions based upon that.

Story two:  An English teacher (me) was instructing students in how to write a critical lens essay.  Then students began their essay and the teacher helped them individually.  The feedback given said: "All discussion is between teacher and students; students are not encouraged to speak directly to one another."  There was no reason for students to be speaking to each other during this portion of the class, in fact that would have detracted from what they were accomplishing in that time frame.  This is how the rubrics can be misused.
Story three: An excellent tenured math teacher was given an "ineffective" for questioning because he used questions with "a single correct answer." This comment comes directly from the Danielson rubric, yet this was a math class where yes, there often is a single correct answer and students do need to get that.  You would hope that anyone would realize this was not how to use the rubric, but you'd be mistaken.

There are more stories along these lines, but when observers miss most of the lesson, teachers feel it's unfair for an all-encompassing rubric to be applied to specific instructional snippets.  They also aren't being given specific feedback.

All teachers are being told to watch ARIS Learn videos, which are overly general and most veteran teachers are already familiar with much of the material covered.  Other recommendations are very superficial or generic.  But then, how could it be otherwise, when the observer only saw 5 or 10 minutes of class?  No one is being given subject specific or lesson specific feedback, and the only real outcome of this new teacher effectiveness system has been teacher demoralization.

For the time being I would prefer to remain anonymous so please refrain from using my name or the the name of our school.  My main reason for this is that I don't want to embarrass our administrators whom we see as being unfairly caught up in the respective mess on their side of this broken system. 


NYC Educator said...

A problem is the widespread but idiotic belief that there is only one way to teach, one way to learn, and that no other way can possibly work. Yet next year there will be some other way and this year's model will be deemed invalid. Clearly the administrators mentioned read lines off of a rubric and fail to think or consider why these lines may not apply. Better to hire smart, flexible administrators who care about what's happening in classroom rather than what it says on this year's piece of paper.

Anonymous said...

But the administrators are pressured to produce criticism and do so voluminously. Pity the person doing evaluations with many competent teachers. If they do it right, they appear unproductive.

Anonymous said...

Yes, they'll get you for not putting all the buzzwords into play at the same time. Students should be in groups, interacting with each other, and everything must be accountable and rigorous.

Anonymous said...

I guess this means that 4+4 does not always have to equal 8. It boggles my mind that any administrator would use that comment during a math lesson. Then again, I may be giving him/her too much credit.

Anonymous said...

THere may only be one correct answer, however there are almost always more than one way to get to an answer. The effective questioning in math comes by developing students' abilities to see strategies for finding an answer.

aquarium supplies said...

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Mark Erickson said...

80 minute lessons? Are you on a block schedule?

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, so methods of evaluation other than value-added do have serious problems too.

Anonymous said...

80 minute math or English at MurryB would be for the 9th grader who came to the school having scored 1 or 2 on the math or English State exam.

Anonymous said...

I taught gifted students the first semester and now have many underachieving students. It was unfair to apply many points in the rubric required for a distinguished rating to that class.

Anonymous said...

Most interesting is that in current times (2015) the Principal can go in and change a teacher's rating: usually from one that would result in an ineffective to a developing or effective. This may be to correct a broken teacher evaluation system that is corrupt, and sometimes controlled by administrators, who themselves are ineffective. I also understand it to be true that this entire new rating system was introduced because, prior to this, administrators were not evaluating teachers at all. Also, depending on the school, particular administrators are pressured to give harsh ratings. If at a failing school: the school is failing because the teachers are failing the students, and their rating must reflect this. If the school is successful, the teacher's rating tend to reflect that as well.