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Performance Evaluation: Tenure Ain’t it Awful!

Part One of a Three Part Series
By Mary Jo McGrath, Attorney at Law

You may have noticed that employee discipline often fails to achieve the intended result of improved performance or conduct. More surprisingly, the same lack of improvement exists through the employee evaluation process. The consequences are the basis of a nationwide scandal.

Two recent investigations have revealed the scope of the teacher evaluation problem. In Illinois, The Small Newspaper Group’s investigative series “The Hidden Cost of Tenure,” written by Scott Reeder, finds through an analysis of public school teacher evaluations statewide, that only one teacher of every 930 is rated as under performing. A school board-mandated audit in a district in North Carolina revealed that only one out of 363 teachers received an “unsatisfactory” summative evaluation, and that very few useful comments for improvement were found on any employee evaluation. Those shocking facts were cited in The News & Observer (North Carolina) article titled “Easy A’s for Wake Teachers.”

Systemic Dysfunction
The statistics for your state and district probably mirror the data from Illinois and North Carolina. Combine teacher tenure, softball evaluations and a reluctance to use remediation with under-performing teachers and you get a highly dysfunctional system.

That is not news to McGrath Training Systems. For more than 20 years, we have been gathering the responses of 150,000-plus school site administrators to our anecdotal survey regarding the performance of school district teachers, and their evaluations. We have found, according to those administrator responses, that between three percent and five percent of permanent teachers are functioning in the lowest category of “poor.” Another 13 percent to 20 percent need improvement to meet satisfactory performance and can be considered marginal.

However, school site administrators admit that in their districts, the number of teachers who receive an unsatisfactory performance rating can be counted on one hand, with several fingers spared. So, an average of 25 percent of teachers nationwide have some need for performance improvement, but do not receive an evaluation that reflects that. Therefore, no improvement occurs. That is the scandal.

A Better Mousetrap
We’ve seen administrators in thousands of public agencies wrestle with this problem. Time and again they go for the same “cure” – redesigning the evaluation instrument. Despite everyone’s best intentions, the evaluation tweak often makes no significant difference – even if it’s “standards based.” In fact, one of the biggest obstacles to removing poor performing teachers is years of evaluations that do not reflect the depth of the instructor’s shortcomings.

I was counsel for a school district that had discharged a teacher. When we looked at the teacher’s performance evaluations, they were consistently good over the course of all evaluation cycles. The principal told me this teacher got the same evaluation as all the others. In fact, she admitted, she used the same evaluation for all the teachers, changing only the pertinent identifying data. She didn’t understand why that was a problem!

In our next e-newsletter, we’ll explain the Circle of Authority, and just exactly how broad your ability to affect teacher performance can be when a different approach is used. We’ll also look at how you can begin the process of continuous feedback to improve the performance of all your employees—the ones you know need improvement, as well as those who are performing well.

 

 


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