Cincinnati’s first year of experience under its groundbreaking performance-pay program suggests that students of teachers who earn top marks for their instructional skills show higher achievement in the classroom.
A study conducted by the district’s office of research and evaluation examines the first year of the Teacher Evaluation System, or TES. The new evaluation tool determines whether teachers advance in five career categories, based on frequent detailed evaluations, including teacher portfolios and classroom observations. (“Teacher Performance-Pay Plan Modified in Cincinnati,” Sept. 19, 2001.)
Implemented in 2000, the pay-for-performance plan is believed to be the first in the nation since 1921 to shift teachers from a single salary schedule. The 44,000-student Ohio district is considered a pacesetter among school systems nationwide that are attempting to retool how teachers are paid and evaluated.
Released last month, the study reveals that students whose state test scores were below average were taught by Cincinnati teachers who earned low evaluation ratings. In contrast, the students of high-achieving teachers earned better-than-average scores.
“We felt that [this study] did validate the Teacher Evaluation System,” said Kathleen Ware, an associate superintendent of the Cincinnati schools. “While it’s not perfect, it is headed in the right direction.”
The study will be conducted annually, she said, adding that the results will help the district refine the evaluation program. Through better- qualified teachers, Ms. Ware said, the Cincinnati schools hope to see improved student test scores.
Only new teachers, along with instructors in their third, 17th, and 22nd years of teaching, were evaluated using the new system last school year.
The study, conducted last fall, examined student scores on Ohio assessments in mathematics, science, reading, and social studies in grades 3-8. Although teachers were evaluated individually, they were not singled out based on their students’ test scores. The evaluation results of 369 teachers were included in the study.
About 31 percent of the teachers were identified as “distinguished,” the top category under the TES. Those teachers’ students earned above-average state test scores in math, science, and social studies. Their students’ reading scores were only slightly above average.
Of the teachers who were rated in the two lowest categories in the evaluation system, 2 percent were “unsatisfactory” and another 14 percent were “basic.” The study determined that those teachers’ students earned below-average scores on reading, math, science, and social studies tests.
Although the study examines only a narrow field of teachers, it is a good, preliminary indication that teacher development leads to increased student achievement, argued Susan Taylor, the president of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, an American Federation of Teachers affiliate. She said she remains “cautiously optimistic” about the program and is eager to see results from annual studies of the evaluation system.
In the future, the district and the union hope to break down the data further, looking at years of teacher experience in relation to student test scores.
A union analysis of the evaluation system’s first year found that 84 percent of the teachers who ranked in the top two categories were either 17- or 22-year veterans, Ms. Taylor said. She added that only 2 percent of the new or inexperienced teachers made the jump to “distinguished.”
Cincinnati teachers will voice their opinions about the evaluation system at the end of May, when they consider rejecting the compensation component of the plan. Ms. Taylor said the union would contract with a research firm to carry out teacher surveys over the next few weeks to gauge their feelings about the TES.
Of the district’s more than 3,000 teachers, 70 percent of those voting must reject linking teacher performance to pay in order to change the program.
Ms. Taylor said she was more confident that the evaluation system was sound because of changes made to it last fall, which include requiring evaluators to meet certification standards.
Representatives from the Educational Testing Service, the nonprofit Princeton, N.J., test- making company, are helping to train the evaluators. That process, which is in its early stages, is intended to help give teachers faith in the consistency of the expectations for teaching standards, she said.
The union leader said she was reserving judgment about the program until the teacher surveys were reviewed, but she suggested that it might be premature to place “100 percent trust” in the evaluation system.
A version of this article appeared in the April 03, 2002 edition of Education Week as Study Tracks Cincinnati’s New Teacher Ratings, Test Scores