Report: Six Steps for Upgrading Teacher Evaluation Systems

By Liana Loewus — October 08, 2010 3 min read

Last year, The New Teacher Project, a nonprofit that specializes in teacher staffing, published a widely-cited report charging that most current teacher-evaluation systems are “unhelpful,” “unfocused,” and “inconsequential.”

This month, the group brought out a companion report, titled Teacher Evaluation 2.0, which offers prescriptive advice on how to improve evaluations.

In general, TNTP states, evaluations should meet six design standards:

• They should be annual. Even veteran teachers without “performance issues” should be evaluated every year.

• They should have clear and rigorous expectations “based primarily on evidence of student learning.” Districts should not set the bar too low for “ineffective” teaching.

• Evaluators should consider multiple measures, such as classroom observations, teacher-generated tests, and district-wide assessments.

• Teachers should receive a rating based on four or five rating categories (i.e., “highly effective,” “effective,” “needs improvement,” and “ineffective”).

• Teachers should get regular feedback on their progress.

• The outcomes of evaluations should affect employment decisions.

At the same time, TNTP says, the success of any evaluation system hinges on how well it is implemented. District leaders need to make sure teachers feel they are being assessed fairly and, in general, are making gains. And they should ensure school leaders have the resources, time, and training needed for effective evaluations.

David B. Cohen, a National Board-certified high school English teacher in Palo Alto, Calif., agrees there’s a need for evaluations that are “much more ongoing and rigorous and tied to professional development.”

Cohen helps direct Accomplished California Teachers, a statewide teacher leadership network, which put out a report in June detailing recommendations for improving California’s teacher evaluation system. Overall, he says, there’s a lot of overlap between the two reports. But one difference is that ACT “puts more emphasis on engaging teachers in designing new systems,” he says. “I don’t see that [TNTP is] against that at all. It’s just that the language and tone of the report seem to be ‘Let’s put this in place to get teachers what they need,’ whereas we say, ‘Let’s get teachers involved in a discussion about what they need.’”

The veteran teacher also disagrees with TNTP’s emphasis on the use of value-added performance measures as part of teacher evaluations. Value-added models link student progress on standardized tests to individual teachers, “while controlling for important factors such as students’ academic history,” TNTP writes. But Cohen says the consensus among research institutions, including the American Educational Research Association, is that “you can’t design tests for one purpose and use them for another purpose.”

The TNTP report also offers examples of evaluation systems that meet at least some of the standards. For instance, it says, teachers at the nationwide network of Achievement First charter schools receive feedback from instructional managers every two weeks. And the New Haven Public Schools in Connecticut created a system in which teachers who consistently receive low ratings, based on multiple measures, are dismissed.

As of now, TNTP’s says, too many evaluation systems communicate the message that “all teachers are about the same, and that the primary purpose of evaluation is to identify and remove a tiny number of teachers who are judged grossly incompetent.” The six standards, according to the report, are founded on a set of core principles “about the power of great teachers.” The principles state, among other things, that children can master rigorous material regardless of socioeconomic status and that “no evaluation system can be perfect.”

Also, see Teacher Evaluations Get Poor Grades.