In education, everyone wants results “yesterday,” but the fruits of educational initiatives are rarely seen in the short term.
An educational vision generally is oriented toward a desired future five to 10 years out. And if improvements in learning fail to materialize, it’s not necessarily because of bad program design or strategies. Often it has more to do with lack of follow-up because of political changes among authorities in charge.
A petition entitled “For an Educational Reform that is Necessary and Respectful of Teachers” was written by Dr. Manuel Gil Anton, prominent academician and columnist, and signed initially by 348 participants of the XII National Congress for Educational Research in Chihuahua (November 16-20, 2015).
Up to now the petition has gathered over 7,000 more signatures on line. It declares: “The education reform lacks an educational project which guides and sustains it. It is reduced to a series of legal modifications of the school system. It is limited to regulating the labor conditions of teachers by means of evaluation procedures which, far from contributing to improvement of teaching, set up a patchwork of control and vigilance to which teachers are submitted, in a most vertical and authoritarian manner.”
With due respect to such an august body of educational experts, I beg to differ. It’s true that up to now what we have seen of teacher evaluation tends to support the conclusion that it is indeed a measure of control and domination of teachers by the state.
The petition goes on to affirm that teacher evaluation procedures have “driven teachers to the limit: submit or be fired.”
Well, the National Institute for the Evaluation of Education (INEE) has to operate within the framework of the General Education Law, and that’s the nature of the law: submit or suffer the consequences. However, that doesn’t mean that evaluation is being conceived and designed to be summative, thumbs up or down, for termination purposes.
In National Policy on Educational Evaluation (2015), the INEE recognizes that “the information that is a product of evaluations is not being fully utilized. That is, there is a clear disconnect between the large quantities of information that are produced and the minuscule impact this has on educational improvement.”
But by 2020, the goal is to create and sustain a “culture of evaluation” which includes “different practices in utilizing the results of evaluation to create new conditions, capacities and motivations to link these results to a permanent process of educational improvement.”
The INEE makes it clear that evaluation should be mostly formative. It should provide specific feedback to evaluatees about how to improve their performance and professional development to help them do so.
Formative evaluation is the “educational project that guides and sustains” education reform in Mexico. When school directors and educational technical advisors learn how to provide precise feedback necessary to the improvement of teaching strategies for each and every teacher and involve him or her, together with school colleagues, in reflexive professional practice, it’s a good bet that teachers will be more able to do the same for their students.
It’s true that for centuries evaluation has been used by teachers and school authorities alike as a means of control and domination. Students must submit to the teacher’s authority or flunk.
Up to now, teacher evaluation hasn’t shown a different face. It has been limited to grading teachers. But this is a new initiative that needs time to bear fruit. It is impossible to change educational evaluation from mostly summative to formative overnight.
The INEE wants to “create a greater disposition to know the results, discuss them and utilize them as reference points for innovative educational action, school improvement plans, and the formulation of policies at the state, school district, and local school level”.
To do this, they propose the following:
- Distribute the results of professional teacher evaluations in accessible formats, along with practical orientation on how these can be understood, analyzed, interpreted and appropriately used to drive school improvement.
- Develop models for using the results of evaluations in schools, with the participation of experts in evaluation, academicians and teachers.
- Identify and use best practices as input for the design of professional development in schools and on line.
Let’s be patient with the INEE, aware that its vision for the future of teacher evaluation is on target, and that as it becomes possible to achieve this vision, it will provide a guide and sustenance for education reform and a rudder to navigate changing political winds.
The writer is an educator with many years of experience in the administration of schools in North and South America. He lives in Pachuca, Hidalgo.