Teacher Assessments in BC

A Blog Post by CBC Newsday in BC student Alex Kostas (Grade 12, Enver Creek Secondary

They hand out report cards, but once a teacher in BC is confirmed in a full time job, most never face an assessment of their skills.

Under the 2011 collective agreement, teacher evaluations or assessments can only be carried out if deemed necessary by school authorities, usually when a serious problem arises. When that occurs, teachers are observed, supervised, and then evaluated.

Education Minister George Abbott stated in a 2011 meeting with the BCCPAC (the association that represents Parent Advisory Councils in BC) that he feels "there's much room for improvement" when it comes to teacher assessments.

While technically a system already exists for cyclical evaluation, Susan Lambert, president of the BCTF (BC Teacher’s Federation) , said in a phone interview that the work involved in carrying out regular assessments is deemed "too great".

A spokesperson from the BCPSEA (BC Public School Employers Association) declined to comment on the topic of teacher evaluations, citing the delicacy of the ongoing negotiations with the BCTF. But papers published on the BCPSEA's website outline their support for assessments.

These papers argue that professional development cannot happen without regular evaluations of some form, and that the two must happen together. It points to regions, such as Shanghai and Finland that regularly beat Canada in world education rankings.

Susan Lambert herself highlighted Finland as an example of a country the BC education program can strive to match in her phone interview. If we compare the 5 stated principles of the Finnish school system with those of the British Columbian school system we see an interesting difference:

British Columbia

Finland

  • Personalized learning for every student
  • Quality teaching and learning
  • Flexibility and choice
  • High standards
  • Learning empowered by technology
  • Resources to those that need them the most
  • High standards and support for special needs
  • Qualified teachers (Master's degree level)
  • Evaluation of teaching
  • Balancing decentralization and centralization

While BC and Finland share some similar values, when it comes to the teachers themselves the countries differ. To become a teacher in Finland one must attain a Master's degree. And Finnish teachers are assessed regularly, in order to ensure they are doing a satisfactory job.

Finland has been the top ranked nation in education since 2000, based on the OECD's (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) list.

Canada has been steadily dropping since 2003, when it ranked third, to its current place of 6th, losing ground to regions such as Shanghai , South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and New Zealand.

To see the differences between Canada, Finland, and the world average from the latest survey (2009), take a look at the infographic below:

Finland vs. Canada | Create infographics

Not all of Finland's success can be connected to teacher evaluations - for instance, there is no doubt that the fact that all their teachers have Masters degrees certainly plays a part - but cyclical third party assessments are surely a contributing factor.

This is an issue that has been raised numerous times in BC's history, meeting vehement opposition from certain organizations and strong support from others. As I mentioned before, the two major protagonists in this argument are the BCTF and BCPSEA. Each organization’s position on assessments is supported by one of the two major provincial political parties; with the Liberal Party supporting the BCPSEA’s case for teacher evaluations, and the NDP pushing against teacher assessments alongside the BCTF.

I wanted to hear opinions closer to home so I interviewed some of my fellow high school students, in Grades 11 and 12. I asked them, "Do you think teachers should be assessed, and why?" A few of their answers are in the video below.

It seems that the overall feeling is that since teachers have such a big influence on students learning, they should be assessed.

I agree. I'm not interested in a large scale witch hunt to weed out weak teachers. It would be beneficial, however, to our education system for teachers to receive regular feedback to assist them in their own development as professionals. If they are to be in charge of a child's learning, there should be some degree of transparency. Unless we want our education system to continue dropping in the world standings, we need to do something to match those countries that surpass us. I believe it needs to be a topic for discussion at any rate, and a top priority in the next collective agreement.