High performance ratings lead to higher job satisfaction among Tennessee teachers, according to a new study by researchers at Vanderbilt University and the University of Missouri.
While these findings may sound intuitive, they are also the first to show that high effective ratings actually cause teachers’ perception of their work to improve, just as low performance ratings cause decreased job satisfaction, according to Matthew G. Springer, an assistant professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University.
Springer suggests the positive effect of high performance marks on job satisfaction could be the result of what he describes as a “more rigorous” evaluation system that Tennessee put into place beginning in 2011.
Before the federal Race to the Top competition began pushing for the overhaul of teacher evaluations across the country, said Springer, many teachers were just rated “effective” or “not effective.” Today, Tennessee’s revamped evaluation system provides five ratings: “5: Significantly Above Expectations (425-500),” “4: Above Expectations (350-424.99),” “3: At Expectations (275-349.99),” “2: Below Expectations (200-274.99),” and “1: Significantly Below Expectations (under 200).”
Springer says evaluation systems like Tennessee’s can over time weed out the worst performers from the profession—those who will experience a negative view of their work based on low performance ratings—while convincing top performers—those who have gained a positive view because of their high performance ratings—to stay. The study authors are now tracking Tennessee’s data to see whether or not this plays out.
“Based on what we have found, it is reasonable to expect that Tennessee’s evaluation system will influence teacher attrition in a way that improves student achievement in the long run,” Springer said.
The study authors analyzed the effects of these different ratings on job satisfaction using teacher evaluation scores combined with data from post-evaluation teacher surveys. The findings showed that a teacher who received a rating of, say, 273 (just below a level 3) reported less job satisfaction than a teacher who received a rating of 276 (just above a level 3), even though the teachers were practically identical in terms of effectiveness. (Teachers only knew their number rating (1-5), not the total score showing how close they came to achieving—or not achieving—a particular rating.)
Springer said the multiple ratings help districts to better identify those teachers who are doing a great job and who might be singled out for incentive pay. This rating system also makes more obvious those teachers who are struggling and in need of extra support. And while past evaluation systems across the country may have only required a teacher to be observed twice a year (if that) with little to no feedback, according to Springer, Tennessee’s new evaluation system requires raters to perform multiple observations each year and to provide feedback and note where teachers are excelling and where they need to improve. This could over the long run lead to greater overall satisfaction, provided teachers seek out the extra support.
“The hope,” said Springer, “is that teachers can take this more informative feedback and pursue training to improve their performance ratings.”
This is an important goal, Springer said, as job satisfaction is directly related to a teacher’s choice to stay in the profession. Past research shows that 25 percent of teachers who leave the profession say that job dissatisfaction is the reason.
Does feedback after an observation contribute to teachers pursuing professional development to improve their practice? The authors of this study are now researching the answer to that question.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.