More than 18 months after its introduction ...
Is current teacher evaluation effective?
Teacher Evaluation for Professional Development, a system to evaluate the performance of teachers at primary and secondary schools, was introduced in April 2010, after months of planning and debate. Under the system, fellow teachers, parents and students assess teachers using 18 criteria. High-performing teachers are rewarded with research opportunities, while those who score poorly must undergo additional training.
The system was not without controversy when first floated. The 180,000-member Korean Federation of Teachers Associations had initially called for changes to the plan as it was proposed, before later throwing its support behind it without conditions. The 60,000-member Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union opposed the system until just before its implementation, claiming that it could be used by education authorities to punish teachers who oppose the government’s education policy. More than a year and a half after the system’s introduction, its impact remains unclear. It proponents say it provides a valuable tool for teachers to gauge and hone their skills, while its detractors say there are no objective criteria for evaluation, leaving teachers at the mercy of personal bias and emotion rather than logic.
It helps educators get better
“The quality of education cannot surpass the quality of teachers” is a statement that has been making its way around educational circles as truth, and rightly so. This belief implies that teachers are the main actor of education and also underscores teachers’ role and responsibility, which is to lead students in a societally desirable direction. In this respect, quality teachers can improve students’ learning ability and also educational quality itself.
For this reason, there needs to be some sort of institutional support mechanism to maintain and develop teachers’ expertise. A constantly pushing, demanding system is especially necessary in a country like Korea where teachers, once certified and hired, are guaranteed their job until the age of 62. Korea’s teacher appraisal process, officially titled the “Teacher Evaluation for Professional Development,” was formulated with such concerns in mind.
The advantages of conducting the Teacher Evaluation for Professional Development can be largely presented in two points. The first is obvious: through the appraisal of teachers’ abilities, the teachers themselves can confirm or improve upon their methods. The assessment provides teachers opportunities to gain feedback regarding their level of professionalism from fellow teachers and from students and parents. The feedback in turn enables teachers to correct their flaws through additional training programs. Participants in the appraisal’s pilot program (carried out from 2005-2009) confirmed these benefits in a survey designed to compare frequent participants to infrequent or non-participants. The survey indicated that teachers who continually participated in the appraisal were better able to gauge their teaching skills. Furthermore, the participants noted that training programs offered by the education offices or respective schools diversified and increased in number. All in all, teachers have more opportunities to receive training specific to their identified needs, and these small individual improvements lead to a better overarching education system.
The second advantage is that there now exists an active dialogue between the educators and the education consumers (students and parents). Through this appraisal, teachers are able to read the unfiltered thoughts of the students and hear their concerns as directly affected individuals. Anxious or disconnected parents are ensured formal, thoughtful communication with their children’s teachers, and the community at large is able to absorb and collectively respond to the various opinions and demands regarding school education. This involvement and interaction means a shift in educational operations from a provider-centric approach to a consumer-centric approach, and at the same time paves the way for increased trust and satisfaction with public school education. The aforementioned survey results also confirmed the possibility of increased communication between education-givers and receivers. The more frequent appraisal participants were shown to absorb more feedback and community insight than the less frequent participants, and the participants in general indicated that the efforts made through the appraisal process would contribute positively not only to themselves, but to the schools. Students and parents expect more collaboration with teachers through the appraisal and this expectation has increased their trust for their teachers and school education.
Clearly, the Teacher Evaluation for Professional Development doesn’t simply “evaluate” teachers. It allows teachers to complement and enhance their own skills by grasping their weaknesses and serves to take our education quality one step higher by promoting dialogue among teachers, parents and students.
By Kim Kap-sung
Kim Kap-sung is director of the Office of Teacher Policy Research at the Korean Educational Development Institute. ― Ed.
The system needs tweaking
The exact name of the system is “Teacher Evaluation for Professional Development.” As a professional teachers’ organization, the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Associations essentially agrees with the intent of the introduction of a teacher evaluation system, which is to support the professional development of teachers using an evaluation system. And we are also strongly demanding the government give the system legal status through the amendment of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
But this doesn’t mean that we support any intention to push teachers into limitless competition. We don’t think that the professionalism of teachers can be enhanced by threatening their job security or salary cuts. That’s the reason we were against an earlier version of the plan. We think that the evaluation must be used to support teacher training or other development procedures and not increase competition. As our demands were accepted and reflected in the system, we now support it.
As the main intent and the actual result of the evaluation must be the professional development of teachers. The evaluation should be used as data to support the enhancement of teaching. To ensure this, the newer version of the plan stated that the results of the evaluations will be used to support teacher training, and the phrases implying any possibility of other usage were erased. So the evaluations are not linked with personnel affairs or compensation as some people feared. There are also training courses available following the evaluation results so that it can be truly efficacious. But the participation of teachers in these courses should be voluntary, not forced. We believe that teachers are professionals so they will do their best to enhance their career development voluntarily according to the evaluation results.
We are also demanding that the government consult with teachers’ associations when they enact enforcement decrees for the evaluation system. For this the government will have to make a committee tentatively named “Committee for the Improvement of the Teacher Evaluation for Professional Development.” This committee should be composed of teachers’ associations, parents’ organizations and other professionals in related areas.
Of course there are still tasks to be solved to make the evaluation system truly supportive of the professional development of teachers. First, the satisfaction survey by students and parents should be just used as a reference to understand their needs. The government should guarantee that it will keep its word and not use these surveys as evaluation factors. And the surveys should be objective and reliable because they can affect the educational conviction and professional decisions of teachers even if not used as evaluation factors. Second, the procedures and system of the fellow teacher evaluation should be improved. According to the current system of the government, all teachers have to participate in the fellow teacher evaluation. Assigning teachers for evaluation and re-sorting the results means more administrative work for teachers, and also leads to cases where teachers have to evaluate colleagues they actually don’t know. So fellow teacher evaluation should be conducted by a small group of teachers that know the person being evaluated well. Third, how the evaluation results are used and teacher training should be improved. Currently the evaluation results use quantifiable indexes, and teachers with bad results have to take training courses. This can result in labeling, reduced confidence and damage voluntary professionalism development. So the training should be operated in an autonomous and professional way based on the professionalism of teachers.
Because the teacher evaluation bill was revised to focus on professional development, KFTA supports the idea as a professional organization. But we do not fully support the government’s current system. And we are against any attempts to make the evaluation an instrument to boost competition and a threat to the professional convictions of teachers. We demand that the evaluation be used just for professional development and the current system be improved so that it can effectively achieve its purpose: to enhance the professional development of teachers.
By Jung Un-soo
Jung Un-soo is international coordinator of the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Associations. ― Ed.