Written by Dr. Jeff Wiechman
TEACHER: “I want to be a better teacher, but I’m not sure what to tell the principal when he asks what I’d like him to pay attention to when observing. In the back of my mind I’m wondering what role his visit(s) will play in my final evaluation . . . which has to do with how I look to others on a call list. How can I know that we’re both looking realistically at my abilities as they grow and change with each new year? How can I give him ‘real data’ that shows more than just a one-hour observation once or twice a year?”
PRINCIPAL: “I need a way to assess the ability levels of my teachers while at the same time helping them to improve their professional practice. However, I struggle to find the time to go in and visit. When end-of-year assessments arrive, I feel as if I need more real data that we can look at to make the assessment more realistic. I want a better sample of what’s really going on in their classrooms and not just the ‘snippets’ I get to see when I come around once or twice a year.”
With the demands on school administrators and classroom teachers everywhere increasing, methods for assessing the ability of teachers are fast-growing and ever-changing. In most districts – including WELS schools – the responsibility for teacher evaluation rests with the principal. While classroom observation is a more traditional means of evaluating teacher performance, the use of portfolios for evaluation and professional growth among teachers at all levels is becoming more and more popular.
A teacher portfolio is a purposeful collection of artifacts and experiences that demonstrate a teacher’s talents and approach to learning. The professional portfolio process is practical, studies argue, and can be used for a variety of purposes including teacher preparation (we use it with candidates at MLC), employment, licensure, advancement, and professional growth (what I’m suggesting as a goal in WELS schools). While popular, a similar set of drawbacks continues to be recognized in the use of portfolios for this purpose, namely, time demands in development and analysis. However, these drawbacks can be used to solve other problems faced in WELS schools such as 1) applicable and useful topics for faculty curriculum study or professional learning groups, 2) studying and discussing what it is that we think makes good teaching, using our new WELS teacher standards as a guide, and 3) professional discussions (within a faculty and between a teacher and principal) about the kinds of artifacts to include in every teacher’s portfolio as well as specific artifacts for individual teachers.
To learn more, I have created a synthesis of research studies (available here) about teacher portfolios that validate their usefulness for teacher evaluation. These studies also indicate some of the pros and cons of their use for administrators and teachers alike. The research focuses on four basic questions concerning the use of portfolios:
1) Do teacher portfolios contribute to a valid assessment of teacher performance?
2) Could teacher portfolios provide a value-added factor to teacher evaluation systems in terms of differentiating quality of performance?
3) What are the perceptions of teachers and administrators regarding the use of portfolios in teacher evaluation?
4) How do teacher portfolios contribute to professional growth for teachers?
“Each (question) serves to inform the overarching question of whether portfolios improve the effectiveness of teacher evaluation systems by offering greater accountability for performance of defined expectations and promoting professional development” (Tucker, Stronge, Gareis, & Beers, 2003).
As teachers, we try to have the best assessments for our students so that we can appreciate their ability, help them improve, and prepare them for greater challenges. As teachers, don’t we want the same for ourselves? In this way we can serve our students even more. Portfolios for teachers are yet another way to improve instruction, assess instructional ability more accurately, and help faculties collaborate on what good teaching looks like.
Jeff Wiechman is a professor of education and academic dean (education studies) at Martin Luther College. His doctorate is in Educational Policy and Administration from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities.