Equity & Diversity News in Brief

Teacher Ratings Skewed by Race

By Madeline Will — June 04, 2019 2 min read
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Teachers of color are disproportionately more likely to be rated “minimally ineffective” or “ineffective” on evaluations than their white counterparts, a new study indicates.

The study finds that across Michigan, nearly 19 percent of black teachers and about 13 percent of Hispanic teachers received a low evaluation rating from the 2011-12 to 2015-16 school years, compared with just 7 percent of white teachers. Teachers of color in schools with a predominately white faculty are even more likely to receive low scores.

“The results are consistent with, but not conclusive of, a story in which the evaluation system disproportionately and negatively harms teachers of color,” said author Joshua Cowen, the faculty co-director of the Education Policy Innovation Collaborative at Michigan State University. “We don’t know, nor can we directly claim, that this is willful or explicit intent, but there’s a lot of research being done ... on the roles of implicit bias in the classroom,” including between supervisors and teachers.

Since 2011, Michigan has required districts to rate teachers as “highly effective,” “effective,” “minimally effective,” or “ineffective,” based on classroom observations and a student-achievement measure. Cowen, along with his co-authors Steven Drake and Amy Auletto, analyzed the evaluation ratings of about 97,500 teachers in Michigan from 2011 to 2015.

On average, only about 3 percent of Michigan teachers received a low rating in any given year. (Across the country, principals continue to rate nearly all teachers as effective, despite states’ efforts to make evaluations tougher.)

Still, teachers of color, especially black teachers, are 50 percent more likely to receive low evaluation ratings than white teachers within the same schools.

Researchers controlled for student-achievement measures, so classroom observations are largely driving this finding, Cowen said. What’s more, black teachers are less likely to get a low evaluation score in schools with more black colleagues.

“That further strengthens the notion that there’s something about the context these teachers are in [and] the ambiguous role these supervisors play, and having familiarity about teachers from a certain background may play a role in reducing these negative patterns,” he said.

These findings suggest that evaluators could benefit from some additional training, including on cultural relevancy and implicit bias, Cowen said.

Male teachers are also more likely than female teachers to receive low evaluation scores, the study found. Across the state, 6.7 percent of female teachers and 9.4 percent of male teachers received at least one low effectiveness rating.

In general, teachers who are rated below effective are more likely to leave their school.

Researchers wrote that these findings place the reputation of teacher-evaluation systems at stake, and if they are not seen as fair, that could harm teacher recruitment and retention.

“We should be looking under the hood of all of these teacher-evaluation systems,” said Cowen, “and say what’s working well and what’s not working well.”

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A version of this article appeared in the June 05, 2019 edition of Education Week as Teacher Ratings Skewed by Race

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