Thursday, July 18, 2013

Feedback versus Evaluation

In my brief July hiatus from daily life at school, several topics have filtered through my less stressed brain.  Time for reflection, without a timeline, is to be treasured… even if treasure does not automatically appear in the form of a report or initiative (that’s another topic though)…

Today I am processing the idea of feedback versus evaluation through the lens of professional development.  I live in Indiana… a state at the “forefront” of the Ed Reform Movement.  2012-13 marked the beginning of an evaluation system and pay scale tied to big testing, Student Learning Objectives and growth models (the state model is called RISE but districts can write their own model).  Some issues have arisen, not the least of which is it’s mid-July and we still don’t have access to our state exam scores to base salaries on, but arguing the deficiencies of the system is not my goal here.  My goal is to reflect on the idea of feedback for professional growth and evaluation of professional effectiveness.  Because my friends, these are two different concepts…

I’ve written on this topic before, and today the folks at SmartBlog on Education picked it up too… “teaching” is not an end goal.  We didn’t take up our graduation gown and announce to the world “I am done!” If so, I wouldn’t be typing this on a laptop, on a wireless network, in MS Word, on a color monitor, hyperlinking articles found on the Internet… Because none of these things were commercially available when I graduated with my undergrad!  So teachers like to learn… okay… but what current discourse is trying to present is that evaluating that learning is the same as developing knowledge.  And THAT I will argue is a deficiency of the system.

This will look familiar to #Jesuit types
In education we refer to the feedback loop.  This is an idea that the learner engages content.  The learner then practices and plays with the content while the teacher/director/facilitator comments along the journey giving feedback while the learner adapts and modifies use of the content.  It is a loop – circular – in conversation and experimentation and commentary.  It’s formative… commentary given during the formation of a skill.  This is what is missing from many professional development programs - space for teachers to experiment with methods and content, within a safe feedback loop.   Evaluation, by contrast, is measuring the effectiveness or productivity of action.  And I do believe we should evaluate – this can be a powerful tool for ensuring the experiments are working.  BUT evaluations are summative and should not/cannot be done without a prior period of comment and feedback. 

Some questions to ask yourself as you shift from an evaluation model to a feedback model….

1. What is the end product of the current process?
The current system I work with attempts this feedback loop but is really more of an evaluation system.  How do I know that?  The end product is a form to put in an HR folder.  The end goal should be a supported faculty member and productive classroom environment... not a form in a folder.

2. Is the feedback given without judgment?
Feedback does not evaluate. One of the best ways to break the evaluation trap is to get rid of any ranking system (you know the one – scale of 1-5 from Atrocious to Proficient).  As soon as anything is ranked, rated or graded it’s an evaluation.

3. Do the administrator and teacher meet face-to-face?
Feedback is a very personal activity.  It requires trust and relationship…and I have yet to see a form or spreadsheet in relationship with a human. This is why many successful programs refer to coaching or mentoring programs.  

4. How much time is taken/offered?
A true feedback process takes time.  The teacher must have time to gather and consume new content and have time to practice/experiment with it.  The administrator gives feedback in dialogue and the process continues.  Time is also needed to reflect and review – this may mean release time from the classroom, flexible scheduling and broadening participation of mentor teachers to provide feedback for newer teachers.

5. Are teachers rewarded for participating in the feedback process?
There should be no negative consequences for failure in experimentation.  This is why it’s a loop – failure is to be expected.  We grow by learning from our mistakes and moving through them.  Researchers are just beginning to understand the value of failure … if teachers are not free to fail, no growth will take place.

My reflections looking at our current evaluation system is just that – it’s an evaluation system.  Not a bad one necessarily, but not one that allows for a lot of time or process of feedback.  Walk-throughs were a great step forward for formative visioning of the classroom, but there is no regular follow up conversation other than a written summary by the evaluator.  What I am sketching out is a process of goal setting, practice, feedback with an administrator and time for reflection of success/failure (or in Ignatian Pedagogy speak: Context – Experience - Reflection) as process… meaning every faculty would have the opportunity to meet regularly, every year, with a support person who would offer feedback on experimentation.  Logistically there are some issues – but to meet the strategic goal of excellence in teaching and fully support our amazing faculty it’s a logistic we need to overcome. 

(*** not to be assumed a new initiative for next year – but something I will be bringing up throughout the year, O’ Readers who may work at the same school as I J)

Feel free to leave ideas, processes or plans for developing feedback loops for professional growth in the comments section.  I know I’d love to read them and I am sure others will too!


  1. Brava!! Your perspective is SPOT-ON!! Will email in a few days to catch up! Great post! Jenn

    1. Thanks Jenn! Returning to the office tomorrow... Talk to you soon.

  2. hi i'm bro jeff pioquinto, sj from ateneo de davao university. it is a jesuit school here in mindanao, philippines. your reflections on IPP is valuable help for us who are also in education apostolate. God bless.

    1. Thank you for your kind words! Merry Christmas!