Commissioner Casselius has good ideas about improving evaluation of teachers

In a recent meeting with the ECM Newspaper editorial board, Brenda Cassellius, Minnesota Commissioner of Education recommended major, intriguing changes in the way Minnesota teachers are evaluated. She also questioned how well principals have been trained to do this. Improving teacher assessment is part of the top seven priorities for the Commissioner and Governor Mark Dayton: “insuring high quality teachers” for each of Minnesota’s students. I think she is right to urge greater attention to a teacher’s license renewal.

Education Minnesota, the statewide teacher union, agrees changes are needed. In a recent statement sent to me, the union asserts, “Minnesota’s current teacher evaluation system is inadequate to support and develop teachers. Many teachers go years without a performance review. A stronger evaluation system is essential to help teachers be more effective.

Agreeing with this concern, Republicans Legislators have urged regular assessment of each Minnesota teacher. They suggest using factors including whether the teacher produces improved student achievement.

Cassellius suggested tying evaluation to the license renewal process. Minnesota teachers are required to carry out various activities and document, generally over a five-year period, that they have gained enough knowledge to be allowed to continue teaching. This is done through taking workshops and classes in various areas, totaling at least 125 hours of work.

Under the approach suggested by Cassellius, Minnesota teachers also would have to take a test of professional knowledge in their field. Cassellius would supplement this with a “locally defined” group of assessments. That could include review by other teachers, videos of their work, surveys of students and determination of whether students in the teacher’s classroom are making progress.

According to Cassellius, currently “principals are not trained well enough to evaluate teachers.” So the state needs to help principals develop the skills and knowledge needed to help evaluate teachers. The Commissioner says many principals agree that they need “further training” to do this well.

The kind of evaluation that the Commissioner recommended would have considerable consequences for a teacher. An ineffective teacher would lose not only her/his job, but also the license to teach anywhere in a Minnesota public school. This would transform license renewal from a relatively unexamined process.

Cassellius believes that more effective assessment of teachers “is an area where (she and the Governor) are seeking agreement” with Republican legislators. Legislators and the Commissioner are right to make this a priority.

Lonnie Hartley, Education Minnesota’s press secretary recently sent me a statement explaining that the group recommends changing teacher evaluation to, among other things:

  • Train evaluators
  • Require school districts and teacher unions to negotiate “an annual teacher evaluation process or implement a plan developed by the Minnesota Department of Education.”
  • Require “multiple measures of student learning, which could include test results, to be taken into account as evaluation components.”
  • Create a three-year evaluation cycle involving a teacher growth plan, review by other teachers and “at least one formal evaluation by a school administrator.”

Details of evaluation proposals vary among the Commissioner, Republican legislators, and the teachers’ union. However, each agrees that improving teaching evaluation is vital. Minnesota students will benefit if these groups find common ground.