Education Policy

Report: State Rules on Teacher Evals Reverting to Pre-ESSA Status Quo

The act of evaluating teacher and principal performance by new measures is already becoming a thing of the past, Some 30 states have backed away from innovative evaluation reforms they adopted during a "flurry of national activity" between 2009 and 2015, according to a new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). This is, the organization noted, a "disheartening" outcome from passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

For example, of the 43 states in 2015 that required teacher evaluation systems to include objective measures of student growth, just 34 do now. Of 37 states in 2015 that used data from state standardized tests for teacher assessments, only 26 do now.

"States undoubtedly have myriad reasons for making this change, including political shifts in some states and implementation challenges in others," the NCTQ report, "Teacher & Principal Evaluation Policy," pointed out. "By eliminating the state test as the required data source for calculating growth measures, states provide their districts with more say in how to measure their teachers' impact on student learning."

On one hand, the authors suggested, district use of measures such as district assessments, student portfolios and student learning objectives to gauge teacher contributions to student growth "may help to build more buy-in for evaluation systems from educators." However, as a result of the shift, there's less objectivity and "states can no longer reliably compare teacher performance among districts." Likewise, states may need to spend more time doing monitoring and oversight of districts to make sure they "preserve the objectivity of their systems."

Change in number of states that require objective measures of student growth in their teacher evaluation systems. Source: "Teacher & Principal Evaluation Policy" from National Council on Teacher Quality

Change in number of states that require objective measures of student growth in their teacher evaluation systems. Source: "Teacher & Principal Evaluation Policy" from National Council on Teacher Quality

According to the NCTQ, which analyzed data from its State Teacher Policy Database, since 2015, after the passage of ESSA:

  • 10 states (Alaska, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Wyoming) and the District of Columbia have backed off on their requirement that teacher evaluations consider any source of objective evidence of student learning -- compared to two states (Alabama and Texas) that shifted to requiring such evidence;

  • Four states (Hawaii, Massachusetts, Mississippi and New York) still mandate the objective measures as part of teacher evaluations but have also decided to no longer require the use of data from their own standardized tests;

  • Five states (Alabama, Arkansas, Nevada, Ohio and Wyoming) have stopped requiring annual teacher evaluations;

  • Four states (Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Oregon) have stopped mandating that teachers who receive low evaluation ratings be put on improvement plans;

  • Four states (Georgia, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Wyoming) and the District of Columbia have stopped requiring or "explicitly allowing" data from student surveys to be used in teacher assessments;

  • 10 states have also stepped back from their new requirements for evaluating school principals on student learning; and

  • Five states have eliminated the requirement that principals be evaluated annually.

"It is hard to attribute many of these changes to anything other than a desire to revert to the status quo," the report stated, "that is, to former systems that generally failed to provide the information necessary for individual teachers to improve their practice and for policymakers to make strategic personnel decisions."

"These actions," asserted NCTQ President, Kate Walsh, in a statement, "indicate that it is not just teachers' unions that have pushed back on new evaluation policies, but school districts as well."

Walsh blames "buyer's remorse" for the backtracking, following on the "lackluster efforts" made by many school districts in implementing the new policies. "Hopefully," she added, "those remaining states will stand strong, with their patience and persistence paying off in terms of a stronger teacher workforce."

What would NCTQ like to see? A set of recommendations in the report included these:

  • The use of both objective and subjective measures with continuous tweaking over time to find the optimal mix;

  • Multiple observations for teachers, done by more than one person, to improve the reliability of the evaluation system reliability;

  • The use of more than two rating categories, to improve the breadth of information available to teachers and policymakers; and

  • Annual use of evaluations for all educators.

NCTQ is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and policy organization "committed to modernizing the teaching profession."

The full report is openly available on the NCTQ website. State data can be searched and compared in the interactive NCTQ State Teacher Policy Database.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.