Designing Transparent Teacher Evaluation: The Role of Oversight Panels for Professional Accountability
by Jennifer Goldstein — 2009
Background/Context: Peer Assistance and Review (PAR), or peer review as it has historically been called, has existed in a handful of school districts since the early 1980s. In 1999, California became the first state to pass PAR legislation; at that time, a major district had not implemented the policy in over a decade.
Setting: This is an in-depth study of one urban district in California, given the pseudonym Rosemont, as it implemented PAR following California’s legislation.
Program: With PAR, designated “PAR coaches”—teachers identified for excellence and released from teaching duties full-time for 2–3 years—provide mentoring to teachers new to the district or the profession, intervention for identified veteran teachers experiencing difficulty, and the formal personnel evaluations of both groups. These PAR coaches are not school based but rather report to an oversight panel composed of teachers and administrators from across the district.
Research Questions: A companion study previously found that the rate of dismissals increased dramatically after the implementation of PAR in Rosemont. This study examines one aspect of Rosemont’s PAR program, its oversight panel. This study examines three questions that in turn address the design, process, and outcomes of PAR and the PAR panel in Rosemont: (1) How did the PAR panel work? (2) How, if at all, did the presence of an oversight panel affect the teacher evaluation process? (3) How, if at all, did the presence of an oversight panel affect personnel outcomes?
Participants: The study involved all PAR coaches (10) and all members of the PAR panel (9) for the first year of program implementation.
Research Design: The study employed an embedded single-case design in Rosemont over 1 1/2 years.
Data Collection and Analysis: The study relied on observations (311 hours of meetings) and semistructured interviews (39). QSR NVivo was used for data management. Observation scripts and interview transcripts were coded to a schema developed from the progressive coding patterns that I observed, and analyzed in response to the research questions.
Findings: The Rosemont data demonstrate that the PAR panel both supported the coaches to do their jobs and held them accountable. The community of educators created by PAR and the PAR panel appears to have proved a more rigorous, evidence-based check on classroom teaching performance. Data are also presented demonstrating the shortcomings of the PAR panel structure in the face of enduring norms against accountability in education.
Conclusions: Significant shifts in organizational structure occurred to support the PAR coaches in their role as evaluators. Making the typically solitary practice of teacher evaluation transparent to colleagues fundamentally alters the nature of educational accountability.
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