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Additional training can help principals have high overall accuracy in teacher observation evaluations, MU researcher finds

February 14th, 2018

Story Contact: Cailin Riley,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – More than 90 percent of teacher evaluations in schools include direct observations by principals. However, the evaluations are often subjective, and if principals are not properly trained, the results may not be a fair representation of a teacher’s performance. A recent study at the University of Missouri found that after completing training with the Network for Educator Effectiveness, principals improved their accuracy. Besides creating greater accuracy, the training also encouraged discussion among principals and teachers about measurable goals.

Christi Bergin, a research professor in the MU College of Education and one of the developers of the Network for Educator Effectiveness, says that improving teacher observation practices helps education leaders prioritize methods in a way that increases transparency.

“If we are going to put resources into teacher evaluation, then let’s do it in a way that is useful and promotes growth and insight,” Bergin said. “The training helps everyone in a school get on the same page about effective teaching.”

In the study, Bergin and colleagues used diagnostic statistics in an innovative way to identify specific teaching practices that principals find difficult to evaluate accurately. For example, “formative assessment,” which refers to ensuring all students are learning during a lesson, was especially difficult to evaluate accurately. Identifying evaluation challenges is helpful because it pin-points where more training is needed.

Because raters can be a big source of error, the study’s findings are an encouraging sign that Network for Educator Effectiveness training is effective. Bergin says a standard training for principals may also help teachers be more informed on how their performance is judged, which then can inform strategies to improve their practice and help promote growth.

“If teachers know their principals are getting high-quality training, then they not only know what to expect in their observations, but they can have confidence in the outcomes,” Bergin said. “The overall community can have faith in their schools knowing that their teachers are growing their skills.”

Bergin’s research team is currently analyzing whether principal characteristics, such as how many years of experience they have, can have a strong impact on their accuracy with evaluations.

“Teacher evaluation: are principals’ classroom observations accurate at the conclusion of training?” was published in Studies in Educational Evaluation. The Network for Educator Effectiveness is the largest comprehensive teacher evaluation system in Missouri—more than 270 school districts use the system and the system trains more than 1,500 principals and administrators every year on how to effectively evaluate teachers.