Teacher Evaluations

Research: Teacher Evaluation Regs Still Need Rebooting

A non-partisan research and policy organization has found that while most states require the inclusion of student growth and achievement to be factored into teacher and principal job evaluations, figuring out how to implement that is a challenge. Too many teachers, for example, continue to be identified as effective or highly effective.

In a report released this month, the National Council on Teacher Quality identified 42 states and the District of Columbia with policies that require objective measures of student outcomes to be part of teacher evaluations; that's up from 15 states in 2009. Among the remaining states, five have no such state policy; and three others have evaluation policies in place, but in name only — as part of waiver requests to the federal government.

Over that same period the use of annual evaluations for teachers has grown from 15 states in 2009 to 27 states in 2015. And 45 states require annual evaluations for new, probationary teachers. In 17 states, evidence of student growth is the "preponderant" criterion in evaluations, up from four states in 2009. Another 18 states specify student growth as a "significant" measure. In 28 states ineffectiveness is categorized as grounds for dismissal.

However, the existence of evaluations is only part of the equation. National Council researchers have found a "troubling pattern" in uptake of new performance-based teacher evaluation systems. Almost all of the teachers are receiving those effective or highly effective ratings. That's not unlike what was happening with the old evaluations, where 99 percent of teachers were rated as satisfactory, even where student achievement was dismal. Somehow, the report noted, policymakers "naively assumed" that new evaluation systems would result in much different results.

The report offers a couple of reasons why this is happening. First, few states — only four — use multiple evaluators; and just over half — 27 states — require multiple observations. Second, the use of student learning outcomes isn't helping differentiate teacher performance. During the current year, while 22 states require or allow the use of outcomes as measures of student growth for the purposes of teacher evaluations, only six require just a single outcome and nine require that the outcomes be reviewed and approved.

Also, the report observed, the use of new learning standards and summative assessments has put the entire K-12 segment into turmoil. However, the researchers asserted, using that as an excuse to delay implementation, adopt "harmless policies" or reduce the importance of student achievement in evaluations "[reinforces] the idea that there are a lot of immediate punitive consequences coming for teachers when performance-based evaluations are fully implemented, which is simply not the case. And they undermine the real purpose of these new evaluation systems: to provide teachers with the feedback they need to continue to grow and develop as professionals."

In most but not all states principal evaluation falls under the same policies that regulate teacher evaluations. Right now 34 states require annual evaluations of school leaders. Of those, 19 states require student achievement to be the main criterion and 14 expect student growth to be a "significant" criterion. Those aren't the only dissimilarities.

For example, while principals have primary responsibility for teacher evaluations, almost no state "clearly articulates" that principals themselves should also be assessed on the quality or effectiveness of their evaluation process. The lone exception, according to the report, is New Jersey, which explicitly requires that principals be rated on fulfilling their duties of implementing teacher evaluations. Also, 22 states with principal evaluation policies don't say who should be responsible for conducting those evaluations.

Observations, a staple of teacher evaluations, are required in 27 states, and only three of those stipulate multiple observations.

The report highlighted three states, Delaware, Florida and Louisiana, as national leaders in tying teacher evaluations to policies of consequence. "Each of these states uses evaluations of teacher effectiveness to inform a variety of teacher policies including teacher training, professional development, improvement planning, compensation and accountability." Of these three, only two — Florida and Louisiana — directly tie teacher compensation to teacher evaluation results. An additional five states do so as well. Unless pay scales change, the report added, "evaluation is only going to be a feedback tool when it could be so much more."

The complete report, including state-by-state details, is available on the National Council on Teacher Quality Web site.

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