For decades, teacher evaluations were little more than a bureaucratic exercise that failed to recognize either excellence or mediocrity in teaching. As such, evaluation represented a missed opportunity for giving teachers valuable feedback that could help them improve their practice.
Increasingly, this is no longer the case. Since 2009, over two-thirds of states have made significant changes to how teachers are evaluated. For most states, the change was motivated by incentives available through the federal programs Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind waivers, and Teacher Incentive Fund. State applications for these funds earned additional credit for upgrading teacher evaluation systems so they take place annually and are based in part on student achievement (Bornfreund, 2013). Other states revamped their systems in response to new political leadership. Regardless of the reason, the end was the same: in most states, teacher performance will now be judged for its impact on student learning alongside traditional measures such as classroom observations, lesson plan reviews and others. Combined, these measures make for more accurate evaluations and serves as a tool for continuous improvement.
The changes states are instituting are far from minor. The most dramatic and controversial is the inclusion of student achievement measures in teacher evaluation. The way student achievement data is used, however, varies significantly by state. For example:
- Most states use student scores from state standardized tests, but many also combine this data with measures such as student learning objectives (SLO), formative assessments, or some other indicator of student achievement.
- States use different statistical methods for attributing student learning to teacher performance. The most widely used models are value-added and student growth percentiles (SGP), both of which attempt to measure student gains so that the system doesn’t unfairly disadvantage teachers whose students were low-performers when they entered their classrooms.
- Student achievement data comprises only part of teachers’ overall evaluation score. In no state does it count for more than half; in several states it’s considerably less.
While linking student achievement to teachers is certainly groundbreaking, nearly every state is revamping how classroom observations are conducted, too. Gone are the days when a principal sits in on a teacher’s class every couple years, armed with a checklist of instructional requirements that rarely were associated with high quality instructional practices. In contrast, teachers are now being observed every year -- and for many, multiple times a year -- by trained evaluators using a researched-based rubric that more accurately judges instructional effectiveness. More importantly, the new classroom observations provide more useful feedback to teachers.
Whether developing a teacher evaluation system, or implementing a new one, school district leaders should ask these questions:
Student achievement and classroom observations are not the only measures used to evaluate teachers. Student/parent surveys, lesson plan reviews, teacher self-reflections and student artifacts are just some of the other measures included in teacher evaluation systems. In most states, districts have wide discretion on which measures to include along with student achievement and classroom observations. Each of these measures has their strengths in providing teacher’s valuable feedback about their instructional practices. There is less evidence, however, that they accurately predict teachers’ impact on student learning. The exception is student surveys. In fact, a recent study by the Gates Foundation found that a high-quality researched-based student survey can accurately measure a teacher’s future effectiveness and can enhance the accuracy of an evaluation system when combined with measures of student achievement and classroom observations.
Keep in mind that identifying teacher effectiveness is a relatively new concept and no system will be perfect. But by examining the different approaches states have taken, state and local education leaders can learn from each other to refine and improve their own systems.
Across states we found:
Developing a comprehensive teacher evaluation system is far from straightforward. But state and district policymakers should make every effort to ensure teachers are being evaluated fairly and accurately.
- Forty-seven states require or recommend that stakeholders, including teachers, provide input into the design of new evaluation systems. Such input is important to gaining broad-based support.
- Forty-six states require or recommend that evaluations include measures on how teachers impact their students’ achievement.
- Classroom observations are a component of every state’s evaluation system; about a third (33) of them require or recommend all teachers be observed at least once a year.
- Forty-one states require or recommend teachers be evaluated on multiple measures as a more complete and accurate gauge of performance. No state evaluates teachers on test scores alone.
- Most states are primarily focused on using evaluation for the purpose of raising teacher performance but also use the results to inform personnel decisions.
- More than half (31) of states use evaluation results to target professional development opportunities for individual teachers.
- Teachers can be dismissed due to poor evaluations in 32 states. However, typically teachers are not eligible to be dismissed until they have been rated as low-performing over multiple years and only after being provided interventions to improve. Even if the teacher fails to improve, in most states the decision to dismiss is left up to the discretion of the school district.
- Local school districts need flexibility in designing and implementing teacher evaluation systems so they are aligned to the needs of the district. But they also need strong support from their states.
- Seventeen states provide districts flexibility as well as support in developing evaluations systems while 21 states leave almost all the responsibility for developing an evaluation system in the hands of districts.
How is the evaluation system developed?
What is the goal of the evaluation system?
Do those goals align with the district strategic plan?
What flexibility do districts have to tailor the evaluation system to the district’s strategic plan?
Does the district have the knowledge and resources in-house to develop their own evaluation system or modify the state model?
Who was involved in development of the evaluation system? Were key stakeholders, particularly teachers, involved in some way?
What is included in the evaluation system?
What measures are included in the evaluation system? How much weight does each measure carry in the overall score?
How accurate are the results? What are the evaluation system’s strengths and weaknesses?
What measures are used to determine the impact a teacher has on their students’ achievement?
What statistical model is used to measure the impact? Why is that measure used? How accurately does it isolate a teacher’s impact on student achievement?
Are the same measures used to evaluate all teachers? If not, how do they differ?
How often are teachers observed in a classroom setting? Does the frequency differ by experience or the teacher’s previous performance level?
Do evaluators have enough time to conduct all the observations required without impeding on their other responsibilities?
Who conducts the observations? How are they trained?
Is the observation rubric researched-based and aligned with the district’s goals?
How are results used?
When do teachers receive feedback from each observation?
Are the overall evaluation results used to improve instructional quality? If so, how?
Are the results used for personnel decisions? If so, how?
Are the results made public? If so, what information is made public?
Click here to download the full report (PDF).
This summary is of a study written and researched by Jim Hull, Center for Public Education's Senior Policy Analyst.
Published October 2013. Copyright Center for Public Education.