Making performance evaluations meaningful

Report on evaluating, compensating teachers highlights universal challenges

By Claudine Kapel

Many organizations say they seek to identify and reward their top talent as ways of driving higher levels of business performance.

But in reality, this is easier said than done, especially since some organizations don’t have the foundational elements required to build and sustain a high-performing culture. These include effective means for both evaluating employee performance and creating links between performance and pay.

A new report on improving the quality of teaching in Canadian public schools highlights some of the common barriers to optimal performance organizations often face. Contextually, it’s important to understand that teachers operate in a unionized environment.

Nevertheless, the report touches on some universal themes and challenges around making performance evaluations meaningful that make the insights relevant to a wide range of organizations.

The report, entitled Effective Management of Human Capital In Schools: Recommendations to Strengthen the Teaching Profession was commissioned by the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE). It is part of a multi-year effort to improve the quality of education and skills training in Canada.

“The challenge for education policy is that the quality of teaching in our schools varies considerably,” notes report author Sachin Maharaj, a Toronto teacher and education researcher. And teaching quality matters, he notes.

Maharaj puts forward recommendations to enhance the quality of teaching that could apply to organizations seeking to achieve higher levels of performance, namely the need for regular evaluations and the need to recognize and reward top performers.

The report also cites other problems with the current approach to teacher evaluation, including:

  • Evaluations, which often consist of a single, pre-arranged visit to the classroom by the principal, are not representative of actual teaching performance.
  • Ratings do not differentiate performance, with most evaluations using a two-level rating scale (either “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory”) that does not meaningfully differentiate performance.
  • Evaluators are not properly trained.
  • Evaluations lack consequences.
  • Evaluations are not tied to professional development.

Some of the report’s recommendations are readily applicable outside the teaching profession as it speaks to the elements of effective performance management, including the need for effective training on how to undertake performance evaluations and the need to be able to differentiate performance levels and deliver meaningful feedback.

Even though the report is focusing on unionized employees, it still makes the case for changing how teachers are compensated to include more differentiation based on performance. It notes teachers in Canadian public schools are currently paid based on a single salary schedule (SSS) that standardizes pay for all teachers based on two variables – academic credentials and years of experience.

But the report suggests a key “deficiency” of the SSS is that it offers “no financial incentive” for teachers to improve their performance in the classroom. “Pay is based solely on academic / professional qualifications and seniority, neither of which is a strong indicator of how well teachers actually teach.”

The report suggests evaluations should be linked to progression on the salary grid and that school administrators should implement performance-based compensation plans based on career ladders. This would enable the school system to create different categories or levels of teachers, with greater responsibilities and higher pay at each successive level.

The report, however, recommends against tying teacher pay to student outcomes, such as attendance rates, graduation rates, dropout rates or student grades. “Paying teachers based on outcomes over which they do not have full control is obviously unfair. It can also drive schools to exclude potentially low-performing students from taking tests in order to boost aggregate performance.”

The questions the report explores with respect to teachers are equally relevant in other environments.

Are evaluations undertaken with sufficient frequency? Do they meaningfully assess skills and performance? Do they encourage employee development? Are employees incented to continuously improve their performance? Are top performers recognized and rewarded in meaningful ways?

These are important questions that every organization should ask as part of its strategy for optimizing performance.

Claudine Kapel

Claudine Kapel is principal of Kapel and Associates Inc., a human resources consulting firm specializing in compensation design, performance management, and employee communications. Claudine is also the co-author of The HR Manager’s Guide to Total Rewards and Straight Talk on Managing Human Resources.
(Required, will not be published)
All comments are moderated and usually appear within 24 hours of posting. Email address will not be published.