Historical and Conceptual Background Knowledge

An understanding of the historical and conceptual background knowledge of performance appraisals is imperative to understanding teacher evaluation policy, implementation and consequences in the United States. The teacher evaluation policies that apply in the United States did not originate in the education field. Teacher evaluations in the United States and across the globe are modeled after the performance appraisal systems of the private sector. Studies and research in the area of performance appraisals have yielded very mixed reviews. In the literature there is a host of issues surrounding the concept, philosophy, management, implementation and unintended consequences of performance appraisals. Organizational psychologists, management and business experts and researchers alike have reviewed the findings of performance appraisals and are not sure of the best direction for the construct moving forward.

The concept of performance appraisals has made its way into every sector of our society. Researchers have repeatedly reached the conclusion that they are not living up to their intended consequences and may actually do more harm than good in moving an organization forward.

There are no quick fixes in the realm of performance appraisals. It is important that educational administrators understand the history of performance appraisals to better combat the problems facing our principals and teachers today. Without a proper understanding of performance appraisals, educators will find themselves in an endless loop of sincere intentions, broken systems and unintended consequences.

In this book, I will use terms such as performance appraisals, assessments, evaluations and judgements as synonymous when applying them to the current concept of teacher evaluations. They all reference the same concept: the judgement of an employee's performance.

Performance Appraisals

Performance appraisals have existed in almost every sector of our society for decades. In all their forms, they seek to measure how an employee is functioning in his or her job. Coens and Jenkins (2000) described the performance appraisal as

a mandated process in which, for a specified period of time, all or a group of employees' work performance, behaviors, or traits are individually rated, judged, or described by a person other than the rated employee and the results are kept by the organization.

(p. 15)

Office managers, mail carriers, teachers, police officers, union stewards, salespersons—almost everyone who has a professional job has undergone the performance review process. "Performance appraisal is a formal, summative process of evaluating job performance that has important consequences for individuals and organizations" (Murphy, Cleveland & Hanscom., 2018, p.17).

Performance assessments are ingrained in our way of life. From the time we were young, whether in school, on the basketball court, or auditioning for a play, someone, somewhere was keeping track and formally judging our performance. We have always had to make the grade, get the score or check off the box. As we grow older and enter the workforce, it is second nature to go through a performance review process. We have actually become pretty good at the process of giving the assessment and receiving the feedback, and even manipulating the results (Coens and Jenkins, 2000).

The modern history of performance review started in World War I, when the U.S. military created a metric rating system to identify poor performers. The practice caught on; recruits continued to be ranked during World War II, and by the 1940s 60% of U.S. companies used performance reviews to determine bonuses and promotions. Peter Cappelli and Anna Tavis gave a straightforward history of performance reviews in their article "The performance management revolution" (2016), featured in the Harvard Business Review.

  • • 1950s: Douglas McGregor encourages assessments and goal setting
  • • 1960s: General Electric (GE) emphasizes accountability and growth
  • • 1970s: Objective merit-pay and accountability
  • • 1980s: GE reward top performers, accommodate the middle and get rid of the bottom performers
  • • 1990s: Assessment and rewards for top performers
  • • 2000s: Increase in direct reports for managers institutes time constraints
  • • 2011: Kelly Services abandons annual performance reviews
  • • 2012: Adobe eliminates annual performance reviews
  • • 2016: Deloitte, PwC and more embrace development feedback

What are institutions trying to achieve when they do this? Performance appraisal has taken different forms over time but these have all shared some large-scale goals. Coens and Jenkins (2000) noted six different purposes for performance appraisal:

  • • Improvement
  • • Coaching
  • • Feedback
  • • Compensation
  • • Staffing decisions and professional development
  • • Termination/legal

Some experts praise performance reviews as an essential management tool for a variety of purposes (Battaglio, 2015). They can increase employee effectiveness and organizational success (Locke & Latham, 1990). Performance tools potentially influence the alignment of individual performance and the goals and objectives of the organization as a whole (Ayers, 2015). Well-designed performance appraisal processes provide a roadmap for interaction within the organization. This is true in education too: "Good formative assessment can generate feedback for teachers to guide their teaching and feedback for students to guide their learning" (Fullan, Hill & Crévola, 2006, p.10).

Conversely, the findings of multiple other studies indicate that performance appraisals are not fulling their intended purposes (Adler et al., 201 6). In fact, a great deal of frustration is expressed in the literature over performance reviews—the extent to which they work, what to do going forward and what to do about the decades of research suggesting that the underlying foundation of the practice was wrong from the beginning (DeNisi & Smith, 2014).