How Do High-Performing Nations Evaluate Teachers?

Who decides if a teacher is effective and how is that determination made? School systems across the United States are struggling to answer that question as they try to design and implement teacher evaluation systems that are fair and accurate. It’s no easy task and is not limited to public schools in this country. School systems around the world are tackling the same issue and are finding consensus among education stakeholders to be elusive.

Teacher evaluations were the main topic of discussion at the 2013 International Summit on the Teacher Profession (ISTP) Summit held last week in Amsterdam. Now in its third year, the ISTP brought together leaders from teacher unions and education ministries to discuss issues around teacher quality, specifically the criteria used to determine teacher effectiveness and its purpose.

In most nations, teacher evaluation systems are essentially a “work in progress,” says Andreas Schleicher of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Schleicher, who attended the ISTP, is the principal author of the study that was presented at the summitt. The report, Teachers for the 21st Century: Using Evaluations to Improve Teaching, takes a look at how different nations are tackling this thorny issue (or not tackling it) and identifying specific models that appear to work – that is, have buy-in from key stakeholders and can point to demonstrable results in student achievement. Because consensus is so frustratingly elusive, most nations are treading carefully, although there is widespread acknowledgement that improved evaluation systems have to be on the menu of education policy reforms.

Of the 28 countries surveyed in the OECD report, 22 have formal policy frameworks in place at the national level to regulate teacher evaluations. The six education systems that do not have such frameworks include Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, but teachers in the countries still received professional feedback. In Denmark, for example, teachers receive feedback from their school administrators once a year. In Norway, teacher-appraisal policies are designed and implemented at the local or school level. In Iceland, evaluation is left to the discretion of individual schools and school boards.

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