Franz Kafka and the Metamorphosis of Teacher Evaluations


One morning, when Mr. K woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his classroom into a horrible insect.


He lay on his segmented brown belly propped against his teachers desk. He had fallen asleep trying to grade English papers again.


His armor-like back ached and wiry thin antennae kept bobbing into view like stray hairs. If he lifted his head a little, he could see his many tiny legs waving about helplessly each holding a pen or pencil.


“What’s happened to me?” he thought.


It wasn’t a dream.


“Oh well.” he shrugged, “I have papers to grade,” and he began to attack the pile of high school essays on literary surrealism.


But before he could even finish the first one, the Commandant sauntered in. At least she liked to call herself that. She was really just a first year principal. Last year she had taught in a classroom right down the hall.


“Mr. K! What is this!?” she demanded.


“You used to call me Franz…”


He was shocked when he heard his own voice answering, it could hardly be recognized as the voice he had had before. As if from deep inside him, there was a painful and uncontrollable squeaking mixed in with it. Mr. K had wanted to give a full answer and explain everything, but before he could finish, the Commandant said, “You haven’t turned in your pre-observation report for your value-added evaluation.”


“Um, yes, I did. I emailed it to you yesterday.”


“You haven’t made references to Danielson’s framework or which Common Core State Standards you’ll be teaching to… How am I going to fairly evaluate your teaching if you don’t make explicit reference to pedagogues like Danielson… and Gates?”


“Half of my evaluation is supposed to come from observation. Couldn’t you just observe me? I told you what I was going to be teaching. Isn’t that enough? I have papers to grade.”


“Of course not, Mr. K! This is a teaching evaluation! Not a grading evaluation!”


“But my students worked all week on these papers. I need to make comments so they can revise them.”


“Do students get a chance to revise their essays on our state mandated standardized writing test?”


“Not really…”


“Then just give them an Advanced, Proficient, Basic or Below Basic and move on to the important work – your evaluation.”


“I thought teaching was the important work.”


“Certainly not. We’re in the evaluation business. We evaluate the students work on their standardized tests so we can tell how well their teachers are performing. That’s the other half of your evaluation, Mr. K – your students’ test scores.”


“But that doesn’t make sense. You can’t evaluate teachers based on a test made to evaluate students. That’s like judging the sturdiness of your shoes based on the sturdiness of your socks.”


“Sure we can! It’s a practice championed by US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, himself!”


“But he has no education background. He’s just a CEO. And even he said schools could put the brakes on it for another year.”


“Time is money, Mr. K.”


“No it isn’t. Look. Most VAM studies have shown that teachers account for only about 1% to 14% of variability in test scores.”


“Come, come, Mr. K! You sell yourself short. Having an effective teacher is the most important factor in a child’s academic success!”


“Yes, having a good teacher is the most important factor IN THE SCHOOL BUILDING. But variation in test scores is attributable to factors outside of the teacher’s control such as student and family background, poverty, curriculum, resources, class size, motivation, attendance, health… Shall I go on?”




“Really? You want to evaluate me based on test scores for students some of whom I may not even teach?”




“I teach the lower level Language Arts students. I have more children with disabilities and English Language Learners so my students scores – even their progress – will be lower than their peers because they face greater learning challenges. That’s fair?”


“Maybe next year we’ll give you the gifted classes.”


“That’s worse! How can you judge me on progress when the gifted children have already reached an academic ceiling?”


“You’ve got nothing but excuses, Mr. K, and as they say at my old alma mater, Teach for America, ‘There are no shortcuts. There are no excuses.’”


“That’s rich coming from an organization that trains teachers in 5 weeks. Let me ask you a question, Ms. Commandant. Has VAM ever been shown to accurately evaluate teacher performance?”


“Uh. No, but…”


“Has its use ever been shown to increase student learning?”


“No, but…”


“Is it endorsed by the nation’s leading scholarly organizations like, say, The American Statistical Association?”


“No, I think the words ‘junk science’ were even thrown about…”


“And you think that you can determine whether I get to keep my job or not based on this deeply flawed methodology? Do you want to be sued for wrongful termination?”


“Sued!? Oh goodie! We get to hold a trial!”




“All done. Let’s bring in the machine from the penal colony.”


“Wait, but… What did I do wrong?”


“You’ll see. The nature of your crime will be slowly carved into your back over a period of 12 hours.”


“Won’t that be excruciatingly painful?”


“Blame tenure. If it wasn’t for due process rights I wouldn’t even have to do that much.”


“Great. Didn’t you notice I’ve turned into a giant insect and have a thick layer of chitin across my shoulders?”


“Mr. K, I’m an administrator! I notice everything!”


And the moral of the story is… No one knows. Common Core requires us to read more nonfiction texts.


(rim shot)



13 thoughts on “Franz Kafka and the Metamorphosis of Teacher Evaluations

  1. […] In short, teachers can call students attention to something that sparks learning. They can bring about optimal conditions for learning to take place. But they are not by themselves sufficient for that learning. They cannot make it happen. Insofar as it is voluntary at all, it is up to the student. To give teachers sole reward or blame for student learning is absurd. […]


  2. […] Using these measures has many unintended consequences that adversely affect the learning environment. When you use VAMs for teacher evaluations, you often end up changing the way the tests are viewed and ultimately the school culture, itself. This is actually one of the intents of using VAMs. However, the changes are rarely positive. For example, this often leads to a greater emphasis on test preparation and specific tested content to the exclusion of content that may lead to better long-term learning gains or increasing student motivation. VAM incentivizes teachers to wish for the most advanced students in their classes and to push the struggling students onto someone else so as to maximize their own personal VAM score. Instead of a collaborative environment where everyone works together to help all students learn, VAM fosters a competitive environment where innovation is horded and not shared with the rest of the staff. It increases turnover and job dissatisfaction. Principals stack classes to make sure certain teachers are more likely to get better evaluations or vice versa. Finally, being unfairly evaluated disincentives new teachers to stay in the profession and it discourages the best and the brightest from ever entering the field in the first place. You’ve heard about that “teacher shortage” everyone’s talking about. VAM is a big part of it. […]


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