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Let’s Build Upon Solid Research to Redesign Teacher Evaluation Practice

Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia recently submitted applications for waivers to the U.S. Department of Education with the intent to obtain flexibility regarding requirements under the No Child Left Behind law. One of the four expectations for the granting of a waiver is the development of “fair, rigorous evaluation and support systems” for teachers and principals. States are scrambling to meet the criteria set out in the guidance, which stipulates:

To receive this flexibility, an SEA and each LEA must commit to develop, adopt, pilot, and implement, with the involvement of teachers and principals, teacher and principal evaluation and support systems that:  (1) will be used for continual improvement of instruction; (2) meaningfully differentiate performance using at least three performance levels; (3) use multiple valid measures in determining performance levels, including as a significant factor data on student growth for all students (including English Learners and students with disabilities), and other measures of professional practice (which may be gathered through multiple formats and sources, such as observations based on rigorous teacher performance standards, teacher portfolios, and student and parent surveys); (4) evaluate teachers and principals on a regular basis; (5) provide clear, timely, and useful feedback, including feedback that identifies needs and guides professional development; and (6) will be used to inform personnel decisions. See full language

While there is general consensus that traditional evaluation of teachers and principals is ineffective for both accountability and improvement purposes, the rush to create new evaluation systems in a short timeframe threatens to reduce the exercise to a number-crunching value-added score despite the U.S. Department of Education language regarding “multiple, valid measures.” Such an outcome will have a devastating effect on all the educators who selflessly serve children on a daily basis in our nation’s schools.

This is a precious opportunity to redesign evaluation systems nationwide in a more evidence-based, thorough and fair manner. A large, multi-site research study, called the Measures of Effective Teaching and funded by the Gates Foundation, offers the first substantial evidence on valid models of observation (for teachers only at this point), the additive value of other performance measures, and the benefits of certain implementation practices. See the full report.

It is unprecedented in scale and rigor with clear implications for the necessary elements for high quality performance assessment. Some of the key findings that could inform state policies and their implementation are the following:

  1. Five observation instruments were found to be positively associated with student achievement gains when they were used by trained observers who had demonstrated accuracy before they rated teachers.
  2. Four observations by different raters were necessary to account for 67% of teaching practice in comparison to only 37% captured by a single observation.
  3. The combination of teachers’ observation scores, student feedback on engagement, and value-added on state tests from a previous year had the greatest predictive power for student outcomes with a different group.

If the educational community is serious about reliability, validity and rigor, these implementation practices are necessary and critical. Teacher evaluation practices will continue to be seen as irrelevant and unfair if we continue business as usual and there will be no accountability or improvement. We need to invest in systematic and evidence-based practices. We owe it to teachers, principals and most importantly, students.

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