How We Unpacked the Rubrics of the New Teacher Observation and Evaluation Standards

This past year, the Braintree social studies department began to examine the rubrics to the four standards identified in the state’s Teacher Observation and Evaluation (TO&E). Because Braintree is a Race to the Top school, the school district is designated to develop and implement the new teacher evaluation system this year. One of the big questions for me was, “How will this new teacher evaluation impact the social studies department?”

We (the curriculum directors and building principals) began by examining only the first two of the four standards. We felt that these two standards are the “heart” of the system. Standard 1 is “Curriculum, Planning, and Assessment.” Standard 2 is “Teaching All Students.” The third and fourth standards, “Family and Community Engagement” and “Professional Culture,” will be examined later in the year. We felt that trying to examine and unpack all four standards at the same time would be overwhelming.

After a brief presentation by the Superintendent, the entire faculty went to break-out sessions: elementary teachers reported to their elementary schools to meet with their respective principals, and secondary teachers went to classrooms with their respective curriculum director.

I knew there were many questions about the new TO&E system, what my role (as curriculum director/administrator) is, and how the system will impact them (teachers) as professionals. My approach was simple: learn as much about the structure of the system in order to gain a better understanding of what is expected of us educators (both teachers and administrators).

We modified our observation form by transforming it into a Teacher Evidence Worksheet. The form simply lists the standards and its indicators and elements to each standard, and the evaluator simply checks off the indicators and elements that have been observed in the observation. There is a comment section where the evaluator simply describes what was observed. In many respects, there is nothing that different from our past practice when it comes to observations on student learning. I felt it was important to show the template to the teachers so that they see the form that will be used. Upon reviewing the form, they found the form no different from what the previous form looked like.

I described the major aspects of the new TO&E. There are four major standards (and reminded them that we would only look at the first two). In each standard there are indicators, which break down the standard into specific areas within the standard. The elements break down each indicator to specific actions or source of evidence.

The next step was to look at the rubrics. The state developed model rubrics, which we (the district and the teachers’ association) agreed to adopt. The rubrics have four categories: unsatisfactory, needs improvement, proficient, and exemplary. It is important to explain to teachers that proficient is the goal for all teachers and administrators. One major distinction for a teacher to be categorized as exemplary is that the teacher is able to (or should) model their practice to other educators.

Teachers were instructed to review the first element of the first indicator of the first standard, or I-A-1 (I. Curriculum, Planning, and Assessment, A. Curriculum and Planning, and 1. Subject Matter Knowledge). Teachers “read” horizontally across the categories to distinguish the descriptors in each category and highlighted key words and phrases that separated the categories apart. Much of what distinguishes needs improvement from proficient, for instance, were the teacher’s level of frequency or rate of consistency in curriculum and planning instruction.

But what does “Proficient” look like? The activity the teachers performed that first day back to school was to discuss what it might look like in the classroom. This was where teachers have the opportunity to contribute into the conversation on what the evaluator should concentrate on when conducting observations, whether it is bell-to-bell or frequent observations in small increments of 10 to 15 minutes each. I modeled unpacking the first element of the first indicator in the first standard. I created four imaginary teachers: Elizabeth (an exemplary teacher), Peter (the proficient teacher), Nelly (a teacher who needs improvement), and Ulysses (one who would be categorized as unsatisfactory). I described how each teacher demonstrated their subject matter knowledge, and how they would have been categorized, or rated, as such.

I felt I had to be very careful when describing “Nelly” and “Ulysses,” but at the same time it was necessary for teachers to see the differences across the four categories. Placing judgment or a rating on a teacher’s performance is very touchy to say the least. For one, I presented it such that the categories or ratings were to inform better planning and instruction, and that the district’s intent is to support and enhance teaching and learning. In other words, “we are not looking nor will we ever look for ways to get you fired,” because that is not who we are. I also mention that just because one receives a needs improvement in one particular element does not suggest that the teacher will be given an overall rating of “needs improvement.” This is not a case where the overall performance of a teacher or administrator is as good as their worst rating. I feel these are very important points to explain to teachers. I suggested to the teachers to focus mainly on characteristics of a teacher who is proficient and a teacher who is exemplary, because this is where many (if not all) of us are at the moment.

I assigned the teachers into three groups; each group focused on a particular indicator (there are three indicators in the first standard). The teachers had roughly 30 minutes to unpack the rubric. We then reconvened as a large group and each group shared their findings.  Before the teachers left to set up their classrooms, I then provided them with a “3-2-1” exit activity: three things they learned from this activity, two things they were still unclear about and had questions, and one high priority concern they had for the department.

The teachers then focused on the second standard (Teaching All Students) on their own and we followed up at our department meeting later in the month, and performed the same activity.

So what did we end up with after this activity? Take a look by clicking here. It is still a work-in-progress.


  1. Lauren Arvidson says

    Thanks for posting, Gorman! I look forward to learning more about this!

Speak Your Mind