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Improving Educator Effectiveness: What Works?

One of the most pressing issues in education is how to measure teacher effectiveness in a way that is objective, fair and meaningful. In this web seminar, two large city districts outlined their models and noted researcher Robert Marzano discussed key elements in any district's efforts.

A District Administration Web Seminar Digest — Originally Presented March 22, 2011

District fosters a close professional collaboration with an eye on growth and improvement

  • Garth Harries
  • Assistant Superintendent
  • New Haven Public Schools

New Haven is one of the first districts to squarely take on teacher evaluations in partnership with our local federation of teachers. We have done this without any grants or foundations; if you take away nothing else, I hope you will see it is entirely possible to dive into this without extra resources.

There are four key ideas at the root of our system:

  • Effective evaluation depends on a deep professional relationship between administration and teachers.
  • There must be frequent and concrete feedback to teachers through a clear set of performance criteria and multiple observations. This can't just be the traditional dog and pony show.
  • Student growth measured in objective assessments needs to be incorporated into the program. This is a huge issue nationally. We are in the midst of it in New Haven and feel good about the process.
  • You need an innovative validation process. Our teacher evaluation process involves three professional conferences, which have been well received across the board because of the depth of the conversations involved. Because both good and bad evaluations can have professional consequences, we use a third-party evaluation system managed by a local education cooperative to independently validate any evaluation that can result in professional consequences for the teacher. This involves parallel observation and then a comparison of findings to be sure we can say with confidence that the teacher's evaluation is fair and objective.

In our first year, we've learned some critical lessons: The process is a collaboration and administrators, parents, students and teachers need to be involved; it's important to validate everyone's concerns; this kind of effort takes more time and we make sure we provide that to administrators; finally, don't demonize each other. Most teachers want to do a good job and want to improve. We're all working toward that same goal.

Denver pilot sets goals, provides tools and support, and rewards results

Jennifer Stern

  • Executive Director
  • Teacher Performance Management
  • Denver Public Schools

The Denver Public School District faces many challenges that, in part, spurred us to focus so intently on this process. We are 75 percent diverse; 45 percent are English language learners and we have a 53 percent graduation rate.

Our program is built on these goals:

  • Ensure every student is taught by an excellent teacher and led by an excellent principal
  • Provide teachers and principals with a clear understanding of what excellence looks like and how they are being measured.
  • Provide teachers and administrators with the resources to help them improve.
  • Reward excellence.

Our program has been collaboration from the beginning involving the teacher association, principals and administrators. We started with focus groups and included parents and students. Then we launched design teams of 45 school leaders who developed Empowering Effective Educators.

We are piloting this program in 16 schools with more than 500 teachers. We built our own framework for what constituted effective teaching that includes four levels of effectiveness and seven ratings. Our rating scale includes levels inside the scale, i.e. Ineffective (level 1-2), Approaching (level 3-4), Effective (level 5-6) and distinguished (level 7). So there is growth within categories as well.

We want to move to a place where teachers believe the evaluation process was accurate and helped them improve. We provide online resources to our staff, including planning tools, online courses, discussion boards, lecture, webinars and podcasts. We also have videos of practice that we considered exemplary so our teachers can see what excellent performance looks like.

When considering a program like this, keep in mind that you will not get it right the first time, but don't let that stop you from moving ahead. Don't let great be the enemy of good. Continuous improvement works alongside the need to move forward. We're just going to do it and keep improving the process and get better as we go along.

The key to better teaching is in better evaluations and goal-setting

Robert Marzano
CEO, Marzano Research Labs


The purpose of super vision should be the enhancement of teachers' skills. Evaluations should help teachers get better.

How do we better assess where teachers are? You can make a case that, in the past, we have not accurately given teachers feedback. Various research shows that the vast majority of teachers are given the highest ratings. So we must assess them better if we are going to help them become better teachers.

Everyone agrees that teaching skill affects student achievement. Therefore, supervision and evaluation should have a direct effect on teacher skill and, by extension, on student achievement.

What can a district do?

  • Develop a common language of teaching. We developed the art and science of teaching. In general, the model focuses heavily on the classroom: what happens in the classroom, preparing and planning, reflecting on teaching, collegiality and professionalism. But the most emphasis is on what is going on in the classroom.
  • In the classroom, we see three broad categories: what teachers do on the spot. This would be things they're prepared for but have not necessarily planned for. Then there are routine things that they do. And finally, strategies and behaviors they use to enhance content.
  • Once you have common language, provide opportunities for focused feedback and practice. It takes a lot of practice for a teacher to become expert; some models say 10 years of deliberate practice. And with that practice there must also be multiple forms of feedback.
  • Find out how teachers rate themselves. We created a five-level scale to assess how well teachers were mastering particular strategies where 0 is you are not using it at all and 4 is that you know it so well you are able to manipulate it to fit changing situations.
  • Use observations from peers, coaches and supervisors that include walk-throughs, comprehensive observations, cueing teaching and student surveys.
  • Provide opportunities to observe and discuss effective teaching, including tools like instructional rounds where teachers observe other teachers—not for the purpose of evaluating them, but to learn from them. Other effective methods are expert videos, like Denver offers, teacher-led professional development opportunities and virtual communities.
  • Require teacher growth and development plans and develop a system that has different levels of expectation based on years of experience.

Whatever framework you use, these ideas can help teachers get better and grow in the practice of teaching.

For over a decade, Schoolnet has innovated the way school districts and states gather and use data to support and improve teaching and learning. And now, Schoolnet’s new Educator Development solutions will empower educators like never before to align teacher practice and student performance. For more information, please visit