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Report: Early Childhood Teacher Evaluations Must Consider All Areas of Child Development

Given the unique challenges faced by preK-3 teachers, teacher effectiveness at those levels should not be evaluated on student reading and math achievement alone but should also account for how young children actually learn, according to a report from the New America Foundation's Early Education Initiative. The report, "An Ocean of Unknowns: The Risks and Opportunities in Using Student Achievement Data to Evaluate PreK-3rd Grade Teachers," identifies three approaches currently in use, the risks and benefits or each one, and lessons learned from their use.

As of 2012, 20 states and the District of Columbia require teacher evaluations to include evidence of student learning. For grades 3 through 8, states typically use standardized tests as evidence, but these states must now find a way of evaluating teachers of the younger grade levels that don't participate in standardized tests. According to the report, teacher evaluations as these levels must consider students' "acquisition of physical, cognitive, and social-emotional skills; their base of general knowledge; their strength of persistence and motivation; and their language and literacy ability" as measures of student learning, not just reading and math.

Key recommendations of the report:

  • Early childhood teacher evaluations should account for specific attributes of preK-3 teachers;
  • States and districts should conduct pilot programs of student learning measures and implement teacher evaluations in stages; and
  • Standardized test data from later grades should not be the only measure of teacher effectiveness in the early grades.

“The PreK-3rd grades lay the foundation for a student’s success throughout their years in school,” said Laura Bornfreund, author of the report and senior policy analyst for New America's Early Education Initiative, in a prepared statement. “The effectiveness of teachers in these grades is critically important, especially for children who are otherwise receiving limited support at home for their cognitive and social development. Taking the right approach to evaluating the work of these teachers is paramount to improving students’ learning not only in these grades but throughout the public education system.”

According to the report, most states are using one or a combination of three approaches for early childhood teacher evaluations:

  • Student learning objectives, which involve teachers and administrators working together to create meaningful measurements of student achievement;
  • Shared assessments, which involve creating or identifying shared assessments at the district or state level; and
  • Shared attribution, which uses a school-wide, value-added score based on test results in third to fifth grades.

The report examines the opportunities and risks of each of these three approaches and provides nine considerations for states and districts as the work to implement any combination of these approaches.

The full report, "An Ocean of Unknowns: The Risks and Opportunities in Using Student Achievement Data to Evaluate PreK-3rd Grade Teachers," is freely available on the New America Foundation's site.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at leilameyer@gmail.com.

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