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An evaluation by numbers isn’t really an evaluation

Submitted by on Monday, 20 September 2010 No Comment

Evaluation: An interview between a manager and an employee, which allows the manager to judge how well the employee is doing the job.

Now that we have the dictionary definition out of the way, let’s move on. There’s no point in lingering on a description that has such a tenuous connection to reality for most employees.

In more than 20 years of “evaluations,” I can count on one hand the number that fit that definition. Some were grossly unfair. One was so glowing that I would have been too embarrassed to write them myself.  Technically speaking, I did write parts of it myself – the boss had copied and pasted from a self-evaulation I’d turned in.
A few were spot-on assessments that I could use to increase my value to the company.

Most, however, were not driven by the “evaluation by numbers” obsession that seems to have taken hold in the country today, particularly when it comes to education “reformers.” It’s an obsession that takes a bad thing – a snapshot-in-time “evaluation” – and makes it exponentially worse.

I do have some experience with that.

There were byline counts when I was a reporter. Those are fairly easily gamed, not to mention an invalid measure. Generating more stories didn’t mean I’d become a better reporter. It didn’t even mean I was more productive. It’s much easier to write four 150-word stories than it is to thoroughly report one 600-word piece.

Later, when I was an editor and a bigger editor got on a” zero tolerance for corrections” kick, we were forced to cite the number of mistakes reporters had made in the past year. Not that that did a thing to improve the quality of reporting on a day-to-day basis.

It’s the same with the theory of tying teacher pay to student test scores. Teaching the test in order to boost scores is no different from learning to game the byline count. Awarding raises based on test scores is the same game as withholding raises based on number of errors.

And none of it does a thing to “improve” the employee or the system. The best possible outcome – and this is not a very good one – is students who know more facts because they spend their lives on drill and kill. At worst, we create a system bent on punishment at the cost of improvement.

A true evaluation can never be a snapshot. It’s more of a photo essay taken over time. It’s meaningful classroom observation. It’s a chance for colleagues to talk about what works and what doesn’t. It’s an opportunity to brainstorm.

It’s an on-going conversation, not the “gotcha” moment of a byline count or error total.

Or a standardized test score.

Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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