Overcoming Racial Bias in Teacher Evaluation: Walk It, Like You Talk It

Group of happy young children who are at schoolMeet Maria, a Mexican American student who entered school with a suitcase full of treasures—including her culture, family traditions, and experiences. She called her suitcase a maleta. Her teachers made it clear that her maleta was not welcome. While she was never explicitly told to leave her treasures at the classroom door, through their curricula, instruction, and assessment practices, her teachers made it known that her culture did not and have value and would hinder her learning. They gave her a new maleta, one filled with the U.S. culture; they believed this maleta would serve her better. As a result, she felt deep shame over the most essential elements of her humanity.

I am Maria—and to this day, I feel the pain of my teachers stealing my humanity.

Teacher evaluation at the center of inequity

Today, our nation is focused on inequities in our education and justice systems. While many school districts and universities have released diversity and social justice statements, the harsh reality remains that some areas within our education system are obstructions to racial equity in our schools—including teacher evaluation tools. This negligence has a profound, lifelong impact on culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) learners. It is time for education leaders to challenge white supremacy and racial bias in teacher evaluation.

In our school systems, we assess what we value and we value what we assess. The purpose of teacher evaluation is to assess the effectiveness of educators in order to enhance their practice. For example, the education community stresses the value of antiracist and implicit bias training in teacher professional development. However, if such training is absent from teacher evaluation models, then we are actually advancing and incentivizing racism and bias. While national teacher evaluation tools claim to be objective and neutral, most are inequitable, biased, and center whiteness. They are veiled as generic tools that are good for all kids; however, such tools only serve to further instantiate white supremacy and marginalize CLD learners. Educators often teach to these evaluations without question, seeking to satisfy the requirements and expectations placed upon them. How can we support and develop teachers to include the maletas of CLD learners in teaching and learning? How can we do this through teacher evaluation?

A culturally responsive approach to teacher assessment

As a teacher education program professor, my white teacher candidates are often surprised when I tell them that colorblindness is harmful. Yes, it is important for teachers to care about all of their students as individuals, but nice is not enough. They must also recognize that each child embodies culture, heritage, ancestry, history, and ways of knowing. Culture matters and so does critical consciousness—reflection on inequality and action for equality. Educators possess the unique ability to raise critical consciousness through a humanizing pedagogy that draws from the individual, cultural, and cognitive treasures that children bring to the classroom.

The gap in connecting culturally responsive teaching and teacher evaluation practices resulted in the University of Denver developing The Framework for Equitable and Excellent Teaching (FEET) evaluation model. This teacher evaluation model places the resources of historically marginalized minority students at the center of teacher evaluation and better prepares educators to serve CLD learners. What makes the FEET an excellent, equitable framework is that it is steeped in decades of research, literature, and experiential knowledge on culturally responsive, sustaining, and revitalizing teaching. The FEET is a performance-based model that develops pre-service teacher skills to meet the needs of all learners; it positions CLD learners at the center. From kindergarten through high school, the FEET brings social and racial justice into teaching and learning to grow the power of culture and the power of change.

A call to disrupt inequity and promote racial justice

For those educators who have awoken and risen to protest racial injustice and demand racial justice, I applaud you. I also ask you to look in your own backyard. Your school districts, schools, and even your classrooms are brimming with white supremacy, systemic racism, and racial injustice. To challenge the system you must first “see” the racism that is deeply embedded in curriculum, instruction, assessment, discipline approaches, and policies to name a few. Once you see it, you must challenge it, dismantle it, and enact practices that promote racial justice.

Teacher evaluation is a good place to start. We can develop, support, and incentivize teachers to honor and include the humanity, culture, heritage, ancestry, and ways of knowing of CLD learners.  All educators should be at the center of racial equity. It’s not just the responsibility of educators of color to move this work forward. All educators must “walk it like they talk it” and address racial injustice by rejecting white supremacy and injecting racial justice into teaching and learning, teacher education, and teacher evaluation.

Maria del Carmen Salazar is a professor of curriculum and instruction and teacher education at University of Denver, Morgridge College of Education. Her research and scholarship center on transformative teacher preparation through empirical research on equitable and effective teaching. Salazar has authored numerous publications on humanizing pedagogies, equitable and effective teaching, and culturally responsive teaching including the book Teacher Evaluation as Cultural Practice: A Framework for Equity and Excellence. She has given over 100 scholarly presentations and 20 national and international keynote presentations on her research areas.

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