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Volume 28, Number 4
July/August 2012

Getting to “4”

Teachers pursue top scores on new classroom observation rubrics


During her first nine years teaching middle school math in Memphis, Tenn., Angela Staples received top scores on her annual evaluations. She did so well that her reviews typically had nary a recommendation for improvement. Then came the first of four observations conducted this school year under Memphis’ new teacher evaluation system, based on the District of Columbia’s IMPACT program. This time she did not receive all top scores—or “4s” under the new system.

The evaluation, compiled in a rubric filled out by an administrator, noted that she could better target instruction to students of varying abilities. Following a post-observation conference with the evaluator, Staples took a four-hour Saturday workshop on differentiated instruction and returned to class on Monday with a new strategy for dividing students up into small groups so they could tackle problems of varying difficulty.

“Nobody’s perfect, and this showed me how I could improve my craft,” says Staples, who teaches at Ridgeway Middle School. “The new system is not as punitive as the old one. It’s focused on teacher growth and how the school can support you to get better.”

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

T. Kane and D. O. Staiger. Gathering Feedback for Teaching: Combining High-Quality Observations with Student Surveys and Achievement Gains. Seattle, WA: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 2012. Available online at

Memphis City Schools

School Improvement Network

Supporting Rater Accuracy and Consistency in Classroom Observation, National Center for Teaching Effectiveness Webinars

Washington, D.C. IMPACT Evaluation System