Formal Teacher Evaluation

I’ve been through two formal evaluations at the school where I work. It’s stressful. At many schools it can determine the future of your whole career. At my school it determines pay, advancement, and retention. But is it just about money and careers? No, it should be primarily about learning to be a better teacher. Let’s look at the process at my school, and I’d like to get a few thoughts out about a more ideal system.

The teacher evaluation system at my school is similar to many other schools, and it’s pretty well setup. It is a three vector process that’s actually better than the system I saw in one video of a school in New York.

What I mean by three vector, is that students, administrators, and the teach their self all complete the evaluation forms. Of course the administrators have the final say, but all factors are accounted for. The administrators do regular observations in all class rooms multiple times for each teacher. Students feedback is also considered, and finally it is in the teacher’s best interest to be as self critical and reflective as possible on their self evaluation so the administrators can see the teacher is aware of areas where they need to improve.

I can’t share the whole evaluation sheet here, yet, in summary, is a single page with a large comment section and an area for numerically ranking the following qualities.

Teaching Methods

Lesson Planning and Time Management

Provision of extra student counseling/tutoring

Student Behavior Management/Classroom Management

Promptness in Scoring/ Providing Student Feedback

Dedication to Self-improvement

Response to Constructive Criticism

Cooperation with other Subject Teachers and Managers

Cooperation with Local Teachers

Participation in Assessment/Curriculum Development

Participation in Extra-Curricular Activities

Adherence to Dress Code



These are straight forward and clear items which administrators would care about. However they are not highly specific about the quality of teaching. That’s where general comments and observations play a role.

A more ideal system

This is still a system of resources allocation. It is more stick like than it is carrot like. Since I come from a military family, I feel that ranks and badges could play a funny little role encouraging teachers to preform better. I can’t speak from research or experience on how this would affect adults in the work space, but positive reward systems seem to work well with students.(Pfiffner, Rosén, O’Leary, 1985) I believe a reward system that garnered autonomy, security, and yes pay too would increase the teacher’s willingness to improve. I’m not talking about a strict or highly formal system; I’m simply talking about a recondition of improvement with real rewards for teachers.

Systems should always include feedback from multiple prospectives. A teacher should never be judged on a single observation by a single expert just as a student should never be judged by a single test.

At the end of the day, any system which evaluates teachers should be about the growth of the teacher. Yes, there are some people who shouldn’t be teachers, but generally everyone can become better. We need to move away from a judge and allocate model to a grow and reward model.

Pfiffner, L. J., Rosén, L. A. and O’Leary, S. G. (1985), THE EFFICACY OF AN ALL-POSITIVE APPROACH TO CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT. Jnl of Applied Behav Analysis, 18: 257–261. doi: 10.1901/jaba.1985.18-257

Formal Teacher Evaluation

Differentiating With A Lesson Pretest

You may not do this every lesson, but sometime you should. Pretesting is for a skill you’re going to be using continuously for more than a few lessons. One such example in my high school science class is reading, using, and creating graphs. This is part of a common core science ELA standard for visual and written data “CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.9-10.7 “. (English Language Arts Standards » Science & Technical Subjects » Grade 9-10.)

I made a pretest on Quizlet as a quick example. Download it here. I may or may not have used Quizlet for this skill, but it works well for this simple example. In the test I want to see if the student is able to identify appropriate common graphs for common types of data. A pretest shouldn’t be too long, so in this one I just give a few examples to look at.

To differentiate the lesson requires planning for each group you plan to identify in your pretest. In this case, we’re looking a simple high-middle-low split. Download the “mindmap” for the general plan here.


Students in this group will benefit most from expanding on the skill. In this example we have them looking at a diverse range of data visualizations from Fathom. They analyze the visual, work on their own ideas, and compare with their peers. It may even be a good idea to have them share what they found with the whole class so that other students aren’t left in the dark.


These are the students you are normally going to teach to. They need a little more practice as you would do normally. It’s important to provide clear instructions and worksheets for them as they also need to work more independently than you might normally design for.

In this case the students will be collecting three different data sets from their peers. Then they need to create appropriate graphs for each dataset. Teamwork should help them stay motivated.

An example of collecting data would be belly button types in the student population. The best type of graph would be the pie graph since it is portions of single population.


These students need more help academically and maybe motivationally. It’s good to go over the assessment again step by step with them. Once you’ve done that they should also have worksheets. The worksheets may be the same as the middle group, or something simpler. Whatever the worksheets are like, you need to help the students through them. After you’ve finished, it’s a good idea to preview the next lesson with this group to give them a leg up.


English Language Arts Standards » Science & Technical Subjects » Grade 9-10. (n.d.). Retrieved June 13, 2016, from

Differentiating With A Lesson Pretest

Nature of high stakes testing at the school in which I teach

The school in which I teach is private high school which is designed to get Chinese students into English speaking universities. I have a very high, 95%+, success rate and we really care about our students. Universities look at a variety of high stakes tests therefor high stakes testing plays a major role at our school. This has consequences.

Our student must do well on the IELTs, GED, and ACT as well have a good GPA throughout our three year program. Most of our classes are fairly typical classes designed to teach subjects, improve their English, and also match well against the tests. However, the students are always taking at least one class to improve their testing scores. In fact, during the second year students are taking multiple classes, each for a single part of the ACT test. The goes on for over ten weeks. Teachers are paid extra to teach these classes and are given substantial bonuses if the students do well on that part of the test or show great improvement.

I do not teach any of the test preparation classes. I can’t speak about them in too much detail, but from the teachers I interviewed there’s not a lot to it. They give the students practice test after practice test, looking for problem patterns each student has issues with. The classes do not teach content and do not teach any skills beyonds taking a test.

Implications Part 1

Our students spend a lot of time taking test and not enough time obtaining skills which will help them in their lives. It’s that simple on the face of it.

We do our best, and the school in making major efforts to expand student autonomy. Several weeks each year are now being put aside for students interest driven projects. We are actually getting push back from the students on those projects. While the implementation needs to improve, the push back’s root cause is China’s testing based culture. Tests have been used as barriers to entry in China for much of its history. Our students don’t mind extensive testing too much, and their parents demand it. Hence it is.

Until universities change how they admit students, and/or China stops putting so much pressure on testing, we’re not going to back down on test preparation.

Effects on other schools

According to Wyane Au, when looking at Chicago school, the teaching methods employed often depended on the nature of the high-stakes standardized test which was employed.(Au, 2007) In some cases, the tests encouraged, schools to use more student centered methods. Other tests encouraged teacher centered teaching and less content. If this is correct, then clearly high-stakes testing affects teaching as it also does at the school where I teach.

From this and the Chinese example of standardized testing, I would conclude that when institutions put into place any fixed assessment at the end of a learning process, it always alters and limits the learning progress. Currently these assessments are said to be unfair (Au, 2009) or corrupting (Nichols, Berliner, & Noddings, 2008) (Ryan, & Weinstein, 2009) in education today. I tend to agree

This is of course based on my own cultural standards. Many Chinese people I’ve talked to see talk to see high-stakes testing as part of their culture. I understand the need for testing every student, and so I think the test need to evolve. I believe that every student is worth a fair shot at some more authentic and/or performance-based assessments which could be administered in their communities. I know every student is worth it!

I’m very exited on about the potential of VR in assessment. I’m currently working on my second educational VR app students get to curate, explore, and share their own art museum with their choice of lighting, music, images. I’m not the only one working to use VR for education; take a look at this link: Learn by doing: Unimersiv educates in virtual reality (Isacsson, 2016)

The Unintentional Oppression Of Assessments Today: Implications Part 2

I briefly, in a very generalizing way, want to touch on the oppressive way which assessments are used today. This is just as much a confession as it is criticism.

Assessments are used to allocate opportunity. This is as true at the school where I teach as it is at most other schools. Students’ scores pair them with a level of opportunity at different educational institutions when they leave our school. We teach many classes designed to reach objectives for tests.

Yet I know some of my lower scoring students are capable of wonders. I see artists, writers, scientists, and more when I watch their thought processes. I see that they merely lack some key skills and experience. I don’t teach those. We don’t teach those skills. We don’t provide that autonomy for experience. I have to get them to pass a GED science test.

And so, while these student pass through our hall, they are developing identities and narratives are who they are. We assess and instruct them on obedience, and not on autonomy of opportunity. We too often narrow the scope of their humanity while, not expand it. The search to be the best student and find the best career in narrowing process. Not only is it narrowing, it in even miss guided when I watch creative minds slip into self defeating narratives, unable to see their wonderful potentials.

It is not all doom and gloom, I think I can improve my science course to provide some of those missing opportunities, but until the end assessments change, I must aim in that direction.

There must be assessments, yet assessments should test ability of preform real world, meaningful tasks in flexible time frames and settings. I want to expand the autonomy and humanity of my students. I want endless opportunity in future cultures. We are already seeing an increasing use of performance-based and authentic assessment.(Cornally, 2012) And formative assessments throughout the school term may provide a better picture of students in the future.(Kamenetz, 2015) However, I’m concerned about who creates and controls such assessment platforms. Those in power tend to be those who succeeded in the old system, and they tend to weave narratives about how well it works as it is. Formative, resource freeing VR technologies may also provide greater assessment abilities in the future. But they also run the risk of monopolizing control of the classroom. Command and control of information… Au also relates this issue called it the “New Taylorism”.(Au, 2011) While I’m not against good, scientific guidance I am against heavy external control of class room by special interests.

These are not revolutionary ideas; they are common place in fact. And yet the majority is still oppressed. The great ideas of a thousand generations before us, still sit unused for the masses. I don’t know what is wrong. I don’t why our kids feed into a prison system larger than Stalin’s gulags. I don’t know violence is sold as justice, and people question why we have so much violence. I don’t know why the promise of opportunity, is an illusion once you read the fine print. I think anyone who says they know, can’t possibility have the complete picture. I think anyone promising a utopia is a fool who hasn’t studied the nature of humanity enough. I don’t think much of our problems are intentional or planned. If anything, it’s intentionality that we are missing. And I go on just wishing people would be better to each other.

I don’t think I’m an idealist; I’m an angry pragmatist who sees a lot of dysfunction. Good education is one of our few hopes for the future. Take heart teachers, and never stop improving your teaching and the lives of your students. We are one of the central change agents needed for a better future.


Au, W. (2007). High-Stakes Testing and Curricular Control: A Qualitative Metasynthesis. Educational Researcher, 36(5), 258-267. doi:10.3102/0013189×07306523

Au, W. (2009). Unequal by design: High-stakes testing and the standardization of inequality. New York: Routledge.

Au, W. (2011). Teaching under the new Taylorism: High‐stakes testing and the standardization of the 21 st century curriculum. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 43(1), 25-45. doi:10.1080/00220272.2010.521261

Cornally, S. (2012, December 20). Deeper Learning: Performance Assessment and Authentic Audience. Retrieved June 05, 2016, from

Isacsson, D. (2016, May 08). Learn by doing: Unimersiv educates in virtual reality. Retrieved June 05, 2016, from

Kamenetz, A. (2015, January 22). The Past, Present And Future Of High-Stakes Testing. Retrieved June 05, 2016, from
Nichols, S. L., Berliner, D. C., & Noddings, N. (2008). Collateral damage: How high-stakes testing corrupts America’s schools. Choice Reviews Online, 46(02). doi:10.5860/choice.46-1032
Ryan, R. M., & Weinstein, N. (2009). Undermining quality teaching and learning: A self-determination theory perspective on high-stakes testing. Theory and Research in Education, 7(2), 224-233. doi:10.1177/1477878509104327
Nature of high stakes testing at the school in which I teach

Reflections on unpacking standards

I’m a rebel against the systemic oppression of humanity, kindness, and community. We continue to witlessly be reaped by sickles, the wheat separated from the chafe in our universities. Even while pretending to heed the words of great humanitarians of history. Thoreau, Buddha, and Jesus are few of my personal favorites, but there are countless remembered and forgotten. Also, I’m completely clueless about how to make my small contribution to the community through education.
As an outsider coming in, my first instinct was to be suspicious or the common core standards, CCS. However, I’ve found that they set a very reasonable set of outcome for students. These are skills which are hard to argue against in the vast majority of cases. So, setting aside my issues with the structure of education, these outcomes are reasonable.

The CCS outcomes I’m dealing with are the science ELA standards. Since I teach in ELLs, they have given me hope about creating a course which will meet their needs in the future. My methods are not determine the CCS.

While the remainder of this academic year may not have complete guidance toward all the outcomes, I’ll at least get a start in the right direction. I’ll have an opportunity to design outcomes based on the CCS. Then I can plan my units, and finally my lessons. Using this backwards design process is sure to improve the experience gained by my students.

A specific example would be the standard I’m working on right now.

Translate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text into visual form (e.g., a table or chart) and translate information expressed visually or mathematically (e.g., in an equation) into words.

I’ve created a set of outcomes with I’ve discussed earlier. I’m working on a unit and lesson to meet this standard.

Reflections on unpacking standards

Three formative assessments for CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.9-10.7

I recently read an excellent resource from Kathy Dyer on titled “22 Easy Formative Assessment Techniques for Measuring Student Learning ” In it she details many formative assessment that can be generically applied to nearly any topic. Many of them can be done with little preparation and are thought to be effective. There’s no doubt that I’ll be using some of them at a latter date. I’ll cover the use of one of those here, and a couple other ideas which I had.

In a recent lesson plan, I’m trying to teach the content of measuring motion to ELL students. I spent a good amount of time thinking about formative assessments for the ELA common core standard about visual data. While the possibilities are nearly limitless, here are a few that I like which address the reading, interpreting, and creation of graphs.

1. Have the students read articles or snippets with important information contained in various visual formats. This is useful because you can show the students how this information is found in the world abroad. You can do this by collecting a range of articles for students to pick out, or you can have them read the same article. That really just depends on your resources. Alternatively this can be a homework assignment to find scientific articles where graphs are used. This depends on the homework load of your students and how independently they can work. In anycase, once they have the graph in their hands, you can either have them turn-in something written or verbally check their comprehension.

2. Let’s work on a variant of “New Clothes” which could breath a little creative excitement into this standard. Introduce the work of Fathom or other data scientists and artists. Give the students a scientific a data set, like migration patters, and see if the students can come up with creative posters.

3. I love verbal check-ins with gradual release. It’s something I try to do as much as possible. It itself is a sort of formative assessment. If you have the luxury of flexible time frames, you can adjust the passing of the lesson as you informally check in with your students. So here I am suggesting that you have a dialogue with your students, simple verbal questioning. This should produce responses which demonstrate understanding. If you’re not getting good responses then you need to slow down and review, maybe from a different approach. Other types of formative assessment can also be used with gradual release.



10 Assessments You Can Perform In 90 Seconds. (2013). Retrieved January 31, 2016, from

Dyer, K. (2013, July 12). 22 Easy Formative Assessment Techniques for Measuring Student Learning. Retrieved January 31, 2016, from

Fathom projects. (n.d.). Retrieved January 31, 2016, from

English Language Arts Standards » Science & Technical Subjects » Grade 9-10 » 7. (n.d.). Retrieved January 29, 2016, from




Three formative assessments for CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.9-10.7

Planning for a common core outcome

Let’s look at beginning plans for an outcome. As all my lovely and loyal readers know, I teach a 10th grade science course to ELLs in Asia. I started this job with just a textbook and a passion for the subjects, but lacking the skills needed to really make the course effective for my students. In my first year, I had mixed results. Now, I expect only a slight improvement over the last year. Things have to change, and there’s a way. It’s called backwards design.

I need to plan for the outcomes before all else. Standards set by governments are often a good place to look. Since my primary roll is to prepare ELLs for U.S. universities, I’ve found that I really like the Common Core English Language Arts Standards for 9th and 10th grade science. They provide a concise set of outcomes I can aim my students toward.

Let’s plan around the following CC standard:

Translate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text into visual form (e.g., a table or chart) and translate information expressed visually or mathematically (e.g., in an equation) into words.


The proficiencies which I would like to see my students meet:

Translate visual information into words

Translate words and data into visual information

I’ve added “and data” as my own addition to the standard

Translate words into mathematical syntax

Translate mathematical syntax into words

Be able to plan for the type of visual display they should use

I’ve added this since I know students often have difficulty with this. I don’t expect them to be Ben Fry, but I expect them not to use a pie chart to graph trajectory.


Assignments and Assessments:

Graphing their trip to school: Assignment / Formative Assessment

Students could complete many types of graphs related to their trip to school or home. Students need to collect data about their speed, time, and direction on any leg or stop on the journey. The students can then use that data to create a map, displacement graph, speed & time graph, and velocity & time graph.


Reading scientific articles: Assignment / Formative Assessment

Many scientific articles contain graphs and data. Being about to understand these is vital. Have students summarize these is helpful as well checking in with them verbally. Here’s a great resource for articles I’ve been using. Most articles won’t meet this standard. Some times it’s good to provides parts of or the whole primary source of the article so the student can work with the data.


Introduction to the scientific process: Assignment / Formative Assessment

This is an assignment I’ve been using to introduce the scientific process. Students come up with measurable hypothesises about about some correlation and running speed of their peers and some other attribute. For example, many students guess height or leg length will have positive correlations with running speed. They can then test the one lap running speeds of many students. It’s important that you only take volunteers for this, you don’t want to embarrass any students by forcing them all to run. Once the data is collected, the student can graph and explain the data in light of their hypothesis.


Weekly tests: Summative Assessment

I like to have weekly tests in my classes. For student who have come out of a test heavy system and now struggle with a sense of urgency in an assignment based system, I’ve found that weekly testing gives a sense of urgency. This could act as either a formative of summative assessment but is primarily summative. In any case, every test should have some form of assessment for this standard since there are many ways of displaying data visually.


English Language Arts Standards » Science & Technical Subjects » Grade 9-10 » 7. (n.d.). Retrieved January 29, 2016, from

ScienceNews for Students. (n.d.). Retrieved January 29, 2016, from



Planning for a common core outcome

Positive reinforcement of classroom management

Positive behavior can be encouraged in the classroom. First you must recognize behavior. Then you should be mindful to reward that behavior. Having procedures in place to reward students will assist and enhance the whole process. By compassion to procedures for negative behavior, positive reward procedures are generally simple and strait forward. The following of a simplified outline of the school wide procedures at my school.


As you can see. It’s not exactly a PBIS system. The reward system is there, but it’s scant. Positive reenforcement is largely a linear process, but it should be an active one rather than a passive one. In the above example, it rewards a select few students who show good behavior and action. This is a good thing to have but in doesn’t reach the vast majority, and it only happens once a year. Students need constant reenforcement in their daily environment.

For this I will split the reenforcement into two pathways. Observe the following chart:


This splits the positive behavior into two primary categories. The first category is for doing the behavior which they students are expected to do. The students can purchase actual items or get minor privileges such as being allowed to wear a hat or other such ideas.

The next category is for students who do something exceptional. This is meant to replicate the sort of rewards and honors that one might receive outside of school for exceptionalism. A student might get their work covered by local news agencies. Exceptional rewards could be given out like vacation hours or access to greater project resources and time that could be saved up by students.

I have long seen the school system as a strange bubble world. I feel that it should be made, as much as possible, to reflect the positive aspects of the wider world while still providing a sandbox like security needed for learning.

Nothing can all be orange zebras and beautiful mountains. While detest micromanagement, I also detest behavior which is detrimental to learning. Of course most students have little concept of building toward their own goals, or even if they do they find it difficult to stay on track. So along with rewarding good behavior we need to punish poor behavior.

I can safely assume that most schools have a system in place for punishment. It is the go to tool for those in a position of power. While it is often over used or poorly design, it is necessary. Ideally it would be solely used press productivity and remove the most dangerous of behavior.

The first stage in negative systems is to try to address the issue as a dialog between the teacher and the student. In the next stage of our system, we issue a warning, and then a written report. As these reports accumulate there are stages including detention, meetings with parents, and finally explosion.

I however find that this system doesn’t help that students behave better. I’ve started a system of collective punishment where if one student is failing to produce, everyone is detained for a short time. This create social pressure and is indiscriminate. It can also be done with complete professionalism and without negative displays of disappointment or disapproval. I’ve found it to be highly effective and to have improved my relationship with students.

However, I would like to see a more extensive system of reward created for students at my school. A system, such as the one I proposed, would bolster the existing reward system. By doing so I believe we would see an increase in positive behavior.

Missouri Schoolwide Positive Behavior Support. (n.d.). Retrieved November 8, 2015, from

Riffel, L. (2011). ©20 11 Laura Riffel – Behavior Doctor Seminars – Permission to Copy – Free or Inexpensive Rewards for Students and Staff. Retrieved November 8, 2015, from or Inexpensive Rewards.pdf

Positive reinforcement of classroom management