UConn News HomeUConn News

UConn professor focuses the evaulation of teaching on student learning (Released: 9/16/98)

by Luis Mocete, Office of University Communications

STORRS, Conn. -- What makes a good teacher? Too often, a clean floor, a neat desk and a well-lit classroom were the measures used to evaluate teachers when Ed Iwanicki was a high school chemistry teacher in the 1960s.

"Even now, the evaluation process focuses too much on what teachers are doing and not enough on what students are learning," says Iwanicki, a professor of educational leadership at the University of Connecticut. "If teacher evaluation is to be meaningful and productive, it should focus on improving aspects of teaching that strengthen or enhance students' learning in some way."

Since the early 1970s, administrators in public schools have talked about using student learning in the evaluation of teaching, he says. But there were no good procedures for doing this. Iwanicki developed some guidelines in the early 1980s for a more learning-focused approach to teacher evaluation by intergrating the evaluation with staff development and the school improvement process.

Through the school improvement process, teachers and their principal target areas where they want to improve student learning. The staff development process is used to help teachers to acquire or sharpen the skills needed to improve student learning in the necessary areas. The teacher evaluation process is used to determine whether teachers are implementing these skills effectively in the classroom and to monitor the impact on student learning.

Using Iwanicki's approach, school staff meet at the beginning of the school year to analyze test scores, look at homework assignments or examine other data to give them an insight into the kinds of improvement needs incoming students have. Once the student learning needs are identified, a school improvement plan is developed and implemented that includes provisions for staff development and teacher evaluation.

"This approach has caught on," he says, "because it makes sense to teachers and administrators."

The state of Louisiana adopted Iwanicki's approach when the state legislature decided that the evaluation process they had been using was not in the best interest of students.

"This way of evaluating teachers is meaningful to students because it will guarantee that they will receive instruction which provides rich learning experiences," says Mari Ann Fowler, assistant superintendent in Louisiana's Dept. of Education's Office of Quality Educators. "It is important for us to assess teachers on teaching what students should be learning and making sure that the learning is happening. That is worth more than just seeing how effectively teachers manage their classrooms or do the planning or know their content."

The Farmington, Conn. public school system is one of several school districts in the state that also use this approach. "The reason we are doing this is because the only way we know if anything we do really matters it is if kids are learning," says Diane Ullman, assistant superintendent in Farmington. "An evaluation system that does not pay attention to student results is measuring the wrong thing."

Many teachers, says Ullman, "cross their fingers and say,