Teacher evaluation: Are we failing our profession?

I am writing this blog post tonight filled with a wide range of emotions: anger, sadness, more anger, fear, and despair.  I usually try to keep my emotions out of blogging, but I am taking a different approach with this post.  Clearly, I am emotionally charged.  My hope is that it will serve as a call to action for you.

As you may already be aware, I am out of the classroom this year.  Currently, my job is managing a grant in my district helping to facilitate teacher led reform in four focus areas: teacher evaluation, professional learning, career pathways for teacher leadership and compensation.  As part of my job, I have had the opportunity to travel around the state of Oregon and learn about pockets of reform that are happening around the country and what that looks like.  It has been a fantastic learning experience.

With that said, I have had two experiences lately where I have learned about physical education teacher evaluation that is happening in other school districts and I am deeply troubled.  I am still processing how I feel about these situations, but I feel compelled to share them with the digital physical education community.  I want to ask the community:

As a profession, have we failed in communicating what quality physical education looks like?

Maybe, these examples are isolated in nature, but my suspicion is that they are not.  In fact, the first example I learned about today from a school district that was brought to Oregon from out of state to describe their performance pay and evaluation system.  What does this look like for physical educators?  I’m glad you asked.

This district (name and state shall remain unnamed, but this information is publicly available on the internet) bases their entire compensation system for teachers on evaluation outcomes.  50% of a teacher’s evaluation outcome is a result of performance and 50% is based on student achievement.  What worries me is how this district defines student achievement for physical education.  The breakdown is as follows:

25% is a rigorous performance assessment that is given district wide.  I’m not entirely sure what this assessment is, but my hunch is it is a fitness test.  The following comment was made twice by the presenters and I wrote it down verbatim the second time because I was so blown away.  The comment was:

“we want everyone to have a ‘high stakes’ component to their evaluation.”

Complicating matters is that when you apply for a job in this district, they require you to submit student achievement data as part of that process.  The following comment was made today by the presenters with “how cool” it was that, “yesterday, we were looking at PE teacher applicants and comparing how many pushups their students were able to do.”

I can’t begin to make this up, folks.

In addition to the 25% performance assessment, the remainder of the student achievement component is as follows:

15% is a district knowledge assessment

5% is how well the school does on their state testing (this percentage is for every teacher aka “we are all in this together”)

5% is tied to how well students do on their state test in Math.  (for K-8 PE, High School PE chose writing). PE teachers were consulted with this 5% and had to choose a core content area that this 5% was attributed to.  The idea is that this will cause PE teachers to also reinforce math strategies they are using in classrooms building wide.

Let me restate this, 50% of a physical education teachers evaluation is based on this criteria.

Where have we gone wrong as a profession…

My second story comes from a district I ran a workshop in recently.  At one point during the workshop, I was asked by an engaged teacher what my thoughts were on the emphasis of skill development with middle school students.  I asked the teacher to give me some more context on the situation and what they told me absolutely blew me away.

This teacher told me that they were scored very low in their most recent evaluation by their principal.  According to the teacher, the principal’s partner was a high level athlete in volleyball.  When the evaluation occurred, the teacher happened to be teaching a middle school volleyball unit.  The teacher was downgraded significantly because they had modified the game into a small sided game, had modified rules and in the evaluator’s opinion, “carries were happening regularly and skill work did not reflect that of what an athletic practice should look like.”

This is an anecdotal story so I feel we need to take it with a grain of salt, but it begs the question.  Do teacher evaluations occur like this one?

Where have we gone wrong as a profession…

Most importantly, how can we change this?



19 Comments on “Teacher evaluation: Are we failing our profession?

  1. #QPE: an integration of fitness, motor skills, social/emotional development, & health/fitness academic content into a movement based learning environment.

    Great Post, love the passion. IMOH, it doesn’t matter if you like basketball, volleyball, soccer, or any other sport. The game changer is in the exit outcome.

    SSBAT (students should be able to): Become their own personal trainer and nutritionist upon graduation.

    How can we change this:
    Promote academic knowledge in #QPE. ie: What is a healthy balanced diet? How can I improve/maintain my aerobic capacity?

    +Test students on knowledge of health and fitness…not their current health/fitness.

  2. Adam, no need to remove the emotion here as situations such as this continue to repeat themselves and more teachers need to be aware of what’s happening if we are to create long term change in our profession. Great change is always sparked by passion and it’s passion that many of us have in our digital physical education community. Being emotionally charged about something we care about is the key to creating long term sustainable change so don’t stop any time soon!

    The two stories you have described in this blog post do not surprise me in the least. Yes, they are shockingly poor examples of the way teacher evaluation is being carried out, there is no question about this. As a physical educator, it makes me feel as though I’m swimming against the tide, but at the end of the day, I want to be able to reflect on how I created my own change, even of that change happens on a micro-level. I know that when added all together those micro-changes that I create will continue to have a greater impact on those within my own school and those who I impact through the workshops and presentations that I lead.

    When we look at all of the passionate, inspiring, committed, and knowledgeable professionals within our own digital physical education community (and you my friend are a huge part of this community), imagine the long term power and impact all of these micro-changes will have in the long term. When we continue to implement the necessary steps to continue raising the bar for our profession, there is no question that we will shift the paradigm and even flip it on its head. It’s happening as we speak but will require more grit, determination, perseverance, and continued passion. The exact core values that we impress upon our own students with regularity are the exact core values that we need as a global community to continue to push our powerful message forward.

    Keep writing from your heart with all that emotion Adam. We’re all human and are all on the same roller coaster so to speak!! Love this post. Keep up the great work. See you in Asheville!

  3. Wow! Where to start on this? These schools clearly have no idea of what Quality Physical Education is or what it takes to achieve it. Can I suggest that you start with the UNESCO QPE Guidelines for Policy Makers and then work backwards from there? There also needs to be a very straight conversation with these school ‘leaders’ about why and how authentic assessment is undertaken.

    I’m happy to come and swing a heavy empirical bat if you need one Adam!

  4. Yes…we seem to be failing as a profession to get the message out there about what quality physical education is and of course the worst culprits of ignorance unfortunately are many in our profession.
    Ultimately the failing is for our students and the future leaders that the education system produces….this kind of made me experience very similar emotions, but in a twisted kind of way also made me feel that I am not the only one experiencing these emotions on a daily basis with so called education leaders and professionals….mad in Colorado too!

  5. Firstly Adam, thank you for taking the time to write this. The more these cases are shared, the more I feel we can raise publicity about them and challenge them. To me reading this post is a further call to arms. At present I am fortunate to be evaluated by my curriculum coordinator who is a PE specialist and sees me teach everyday, a relatively unique position. I am painfully aware that this will change soon and, like many others, I will be evaluated by administrators who have no concept of what quality physical education looks like. Ignorance is incredibly dangerous and it is our responsibility as a profession to step up and challenge it at every opportunity, preferrably before it enters into some of the situations you have described. What can we do? How about emailing your principal, school board, parents, superintendent, and legislators on a weekly basis telling them what your are teaching and WHY you are teaching it. They have to understand the purpose behind the structure, the knowledge that is used when planning, and age appropriate practices for our subject area. Use analogies to compare what these assessments measure to demonstrate the ludicrous nature of them. Be the thorn in their side so that they know you WILL challenge them on each and every point that might be brought up. After all, one measure of educator effectiveness is how you advocate for students – surely this is one of the best examples being that advocate for their learning. On a side note, I might be currently pulling down someone’s class average on the push up front… are my administrators failing me here??!!

  6. Wow, great post. The topic of performance/results based pay is going to become more and more popular as many districts are implementing these types of programs to motivate teacher performance. I will admit that the current salary system is pretty broken – districts are paying based on position (how many years, how many degrees) instead of actual teacher effectiveness and quality. While that’s true I haven’t yet heard a performance pay system that I thought was a good fit for education (especially Phys Ed)

    As teachers we work for an organization that is supposed to produce a product – productive, innovative students that can contribute to society. Specifically as Phys Ed teachers we focus on making sure our students have skills to lead healthy lifestyles (which will increase productivity, innovation and well being, leading to a more enjoyable life regardless of what the student ends up doing). .

    What we need to get clear on defining the outcomes that we should be held responsible for as teachers. Like Alex said in the comment above, knowledge is something that is much more in our control than actual fitness levels. Although, if you see your students everyday – I think a case can be made for individual student improvement regarding fitness.

    Many elementary teachers only see their kids once a week and if there is an assembly, holiday, field trip or an early release day they might go 2-3 weeks without PE. It’s tough to say that that teacher should be responsible for their fitness levels, or even improvement.

    A Surgeon is responsible for doing an actual surgery and providing the patient with a plan on how to recover. They aren’t paid based on whether or not the patient decides to follow the plan or not.

    My main fear with performance pay in education isn’t so much the concept of it, but that teachers will begin to lose focus on the really important domains of learning that aren’t as easy to assess in a standardized fashion. The affective/social domain is one of the most important things for us to develop in our students, but also one of the hardest ones to assess.

  7. Great post, thank you Adam. As stated above, we must continue to advocate, educate, and motivate as often as possible. This includes students (who could be our biggest advocates), parents, colleagues, administrators, Board of Education members, community members and/or businesses, etc. It takes time, it takes effort, and just as importantly it takes a strong support system. This may look different in respective districts/states. Like-minded individuals who are passionate about their discipline can be very powerful! This online community is where I often turn for ideas and support. “Thanks” goes out to everyone who reads your blog, posts online, and works to continue spreading the word on the importance of quality Physical Education! Keep up the great work and thanks again for sharing a “real view” on what really goes on in many places.

  8. Adam, thanks for sharing your observations and thoughts. The comments have also been excellent and they encourage me. Lots of terrific physical educators out there that “get it.”

    While there will always be outliers, and in this case, these rogue district’s are certainly that, I like to think the great physical education programs supported by administrators who are more clued in than clueless are the one’s to focus on. What they’re doing right isn’t publicized enough and there are many student and/or teacher evaluation heroes in our field as we all know. It’s human nature to focus disproportionately on the problem student (or in this case the teacher evaluator/evaluation parameters) because they bug the ___ out of us. I suggest part of the solution is to re-direct the spotlight and shine it on those setting positive examples and doing teacher evaluation well. They will lead the way for others to follow.

    That said, I have three comments:

    Assessment shouldn’t be a secret. Every teacher should understand exactly what she/he will be evaluated on, AND, should have a pre-observation meeting to ask questions, make suggestions/addendeum, request clarification, etc.

    Teacher evaluation should be a collaborative approach, not one directed from on high. The physical education teacher — maybe more than any other subject — should be helping design the evaluation tool and how it will be administered. So often it’s the novice evaluating the expert, and this is a recipe for disaster.

    Finally, teacher evaluation should be based on student standards — state or national/provincial — because the content teachers select and the pedagogical methods they choose are driven by what students should know and be able to do at grade level.

    Thanks again for getting the conversation started Adam, much appreciated.

    paul rosengard

  9. Here in New Zealand I don’t believe these are real examples? Please tell me they are not.

  10. Adam. It is sickening to read the way in which teaching in general is shifting and how polar and opposed it has become. I can empathise with school board officials and administrators who feel the push from above to see stronger results and who are trying to find ways to make change in schools, but to be pushing this on to teaching performance and to expect any teacher to be paid by the way in which their students perform (on any kind of test) is outrageous and totally undermines the value of teaching and learning. I wonder how those officials or politicians would feel if they were paid based on the % of people in their communities who were happy with their services? Or as another has written, a surgeon who has performed an operation and has their patient not follow up with the post-op care – and then not get paid. I wonder why we encourage young people to become teachers if they are going to be at the mercy of their student numbers. How do we in-still community values in our teachers if we don’t encourage them to move into districts where there is real need for strong teaching and learning if the test scores will not bring them that pay that they need to live in this World?

    I also wonder what is going on in life if the way we are working with students is now being evaluated in pay. Does this mean that teachers could be forced out of their jobs if kids cannot do pushups? really? Is that a life long learning trait we want to in-still in our students? “you will fail in life if you cannot do pushups” and will teachers be cheating on the test results, substituting fake scores for the real ones to reach their pay quota and snaffle up a new job – what kind of community is that?

    Teaching is not easy, but to read the way in which PE teachers are being treated in a first world country that should know better is really off. Keep going Adam, people will recognise passionate leadership and that has to outweigh this ridiculous notion of teaching and pay appraisal.

    • Adam, and everyone else, thank you for bravely voicing your concerns about idiosyncrasies in the profession. I have to remind myself that admin and paperwork are part and parcel of my job as with any job nowadays but surely we need to stand up and say the teaching and more importantly the learning is our most important priority! Don’t motivate us to focus our attention elsewhere! Great teachers who could sow the seed for lifelong activity and enjoyment will be lost if we continue down this dangerous performance related road. Thank goodness we have such a strong and passionate PLN online to be the voice of reason amongst the madness.

  11. Adam, it is a shame that schools in the States are like this. We as physical education teachers are always fighting for what we are doing in our subject. We are trying to teach the right way and assess in the best interests of the students. I do get frustrated with those who make comments on our subject but do not really know what we are trying to achieve.

    We have administrators occasionally view our classes and submit an evaluation on a system called ‘Folio’. This is our portfolio of teaching. They are supposed to do drop ins and full lesson evaluations, which is great, but they are not experts in our subject. I feel it would be better if we are observed by our colleagues. We ask for them to focus on something and they observe that in lessons we teach and give us feedback.

    This is something I am hoping to bring up in our school policy for evaluating and hopefully it can be implemented for next year.

    We also have student evaluation surveys. The admin consider these very valuable and we have to justify any negative scores or comments from the students. It has a great weight on how we are evaluated as teachers. Unfortunately, the curriculum we teach is new to the middle school students and they are used to being ‘Coached’ and not ‘Taught’. So as we have been bringing this curriculum into the school, the students don’t like it as they just want to play games and not put the effort into being graded properly. So the results can be quite negative at times.

    Whilst I do value student feedback and interaction, I am not sure student evaluation should carry such great weight in a situation like ours.

  12. Nice article Adam and you highlight some of the shocking ideas that some people in education (note, I didn’t say educators) have regarding teacher evaluation and their place within physical education. The more I communicate with other teachers, the more I realise that that there are teachers out there struggling to do the best for their students despite the tinkering of their administration.
    I am fortunate to work in a school that values the teacher evaluation process as a positive, and collaborative one. We view teacher evaluation as an opportunity to showcase why our teachers are good, NOT use it to find out ways to prove that they are not. Even if the evaluation goes poorly, it is the reflection afterwards that carries the most weight. Are we aware of areas in which we can improve and what steps would we take next time to ensure that we are more successful in the future.
    The Physedagogy crew are among our strongest advocates and I applaud their efforts and the efforts of the countless others who are now forced to educate the adults around them who seem to be hampering the efforts of educating the students in our care.

  13. Great article Adam. I feel “we” haven’t gone wrong, but our voices as digital leaders in PE have yet to be heard by district and state administrators and policy makers. Our communities (twitter, voxer, google+) have deep, rich, and meaningful discussions daily on how to improve student outcomes in our curriculum. On a school level I’m sure many quality PE teachers have changed their administrations perspective on Physical Education and what best practices look like in PE. That shift has yet to happen at the district and state levels. The vocal minority is often the voice of change, so we need to continue to have these conversations while offering solutions at higher levels. Policy makers with no background in Physical Education will need to hear realistic solutions that work in Physical Education and these solutions must be tied to data-based outcomes for accountability.

  14. Adam, reading this is very scary. I talked to some colleagues a while back about hoping that PE doesn’t become evaluated based on fitness scores. I warned if it did, teachers will only do push ups, situps and rune the mile in PE to get a good evaluation.

    You are totally correct that admins are weak on evaluating a QPE program as well as hiring a highly qualified PE teacher. I interviewed at a school last year and feel like I spent half of the interview educating the principal about QPE. I didn’t get the job. The program I interviewed for was a very weak program within a community of highly educated families who want a great PE program. I told their principal in the interview their school was a sleeping giant when it comes to PE. Nonetheless they hired someone who was “move-in ready” but perhaps less exceptional.

    After that I emailed our superintendent and asked if I could take 30 minutes at a division wide principals meeting to briefly discuss what to look for in a QPE classroom and what a quality hire looks like. Never happened. I talked with a principal in our district and asked him what he looks for in a PE program. He said mainly that kids are moving and happy. That goes back to the 80’s mantra “busy, happy, good” equals a QPE program. He was honest though and said most admins don’t know what a QPE program is or how to evaluate one. Most admins are happy if they don’t get any problems from parents regarding the PE program. Because of the long history of poor PE programs in the past, the image or perception of a PE program will always face an upward battle for respect. Even worse is the students who get saddled with a PE teacher who is not very motivated and an admin who can’t see it.

  15. Pingback: The PE Playbook – May 15 Edition | drowningintheshallow

  16. The experience expressed in the article above is, unfortunately, too common. We designed mme moe (www.mme-moe.com) to, in part, enable teachers to reclaim their profession. mme moe would be of interest to all on this thread, designed by an Olympian with a passion for holistic teacher education through teacher agency and reflective practice.

  17. Pingback: The PE Playbook – May 15 Edition – drowningintheshallow

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