Thursday, February 16, 2012

Teacher Evaluation Reform in NJ: Will it Cultivate a Culture of Efficacy?

In a memo from Acting Commissioner of Education Christopher Cerf, NJ's proposed teacher evaluation reform model will categorize all teachers as being "ineffective", "partially effective", "effective", or "highly effective." Principals will determine these categorizations from a variety of measures. Fifty percent of these measures will be from determinants classified by the DOE as "learning outcomes" and 50% will be from those items deemed "effective practice." The "learning outcomes" component will be based on measures such as standardized tests and student growth, with less emphasis on all students achieving some predetermined benchmark of performance. Acting Commissioner Cerf did not touch on examples of measures that might comprise the "effective practice" component, which suggests this might be a local decision. As a principal, my "thoughts without thinking" (see blink by Malcolm Gladwell) about this proposed reform are positive overall, but I am concerned with the four categorizations of teacher performance and their subsequent influence on self and collective efficacy.

Albert Bandura has done a great deal of research in self and collective efficacy applied to many different situations. Self efficacy is one's belief that he or she is effective at achieving the task at hand, while collective efficacy refers to individual member beliefs about the effectiveness of the group as a whole. As a school leader, I can't help but think Acting Commissioner Cerf's proposed teacher evaluation categorizations will have negative influences on teachers' sense of self and collective efficacy, which has the potential to be disastrous for schools. Why? Well, Bandura has written extensively about the four sources of information, including mastery experiences, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, and emotional arousal, to improve efficacy. Much of the efficacy research points to mastery experience(s) as the strongest source of information to improve both self and collective efficacy.

Can you imagine teachers' reactions when they get an evaluation that suggests they are "effective" or "ineffective" teachers? What will these categorizations due to teachers' beliefs about self and collective efficacy? It is important to reflect on these questions, because collective teacher efficacy has emerged as one of the few school level variables for which there is evidence to suggest that we can mitigate the strong influence of student/school socioeconomic status on achievement (see the work of Bandura, Roger Goddard, Wayne Hoy, Page Smith, and Scott Sweetland). As collective teacher efficacy improves, so does school/student performance. From my perspective, these proposed teacher evaluation categorizations are more likely to negatively influence teachers' self and collective efficacy, which might result in decreased school/student performance.

So, what will administrators need to do to continue to cultivate a culture of efficacy when Acting Commissioner Cerf's proposed teacher effectiveness categorizations are likely to destroy it? I'm interested in your thoughts, so please join the discussion.

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