Teaching Profession

Teachers of Color Get Lower Evaluation Scores Than Their White Peers, Study Finds

By Madeline Will — May 22, 2019 3 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 finds.

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 2011-12 to 2015-16, compared to 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 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 school districts to rate teachers as highly effective, effective, minimally effective, or ineffective, based on classroom observations and a measure of student achievement. 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. And 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.

Next Step in Diversity Training: Teachers Learn to Face Their Unconscious Biases

Effects of Gender on Evaluation Ratings

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.

Male teachers are less likely to receive low ratings in schools with male administrators. Cowen said that discrepency could be attributed to the same reason why white administrators are more likely to score white teachers higher—people tend to think of a good teacher as someone who is like them.

Past research has pointed to friction between male teachers and female administrators: A study last year found that male teachers were 12 percent more likely to leave their school if the principal were a woman than if the principal were a man.

Effects on Attrition?

In general, teachers who are rated below effective are more likely to leave their school. Most low-performing teachers are not formally dismissed, but they are more likely to be counseled out, Cowen said.

The study found that low-rated teachers of color are not more likely to leave than low-rated white teachers. In other words, the evaluation rating is a more meaningful predictor of teachers leaving than race or gender.

Still, “teachers of color are in short supply,” Cowen said, adding that these findings could indicate a “pushout effect in the margins.” In Michigan alone, the black teaching force has declined by about 27 percent from 2011 to 2015.

And 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.

Cowen said these findings call for additional research on the results of the evaluation systems that were put in place over the past decade.

“Collectively in the education community, ... we’ve lost the interest or fire about teacher evaluation,” he said. “We should be looking under the hood of all of these teacher evaluation systems and say what’s working well and what’s not working well.”

Image via Getty

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.