An analysis of six different teacher-evaluation systems shows that when the systems are implemented with fidelity and with certain tactics, they can lead to an improvement in the teacher workforce—good teachers are more likely to stay, and low-performing teachers are likely to either leave the district or improve.
The National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington-based think tank that advocates for measuring teacher effectiveness through objective data like test scores, studied evidence of the outcomes of teacher-evaluation reform in six places: Denver; the Dallas Independent school district; the District of Columbia; Newark, N.J.; New Mexico; and Tennessee.
Each of these systems evaluates all teachers every year with both objective and subjective measures. Each ties professional development to evaluation results and, significantly, each system links evaluation results to opportunities to earn more money.
Teacher-evaluation reform has been controversial, and over the past few years, some states have begun reversing mandates on using student-growth measures (mainly standardized-test scores) to gauge teacher quality. The system in New Mexico, which the NCTQ report highlights as a shining star in evaluation reform, is known as the toughest in the country and has been seen as deeply unfair by many teachers and their unions. Last year, the state education department tweaked the system, reducing the student-growth component from 50 percent of a teacher’s overall rating to 35 percent, among other changes.
Tennessee’s system was also deeply unpopular when it was first implemented in 2011, with teachers saying the process was opaque and frustrating and other critics saying the implementation was rushed.
But NCTQ notes that each of the six places in the analysis committed to implementing the systems with fidelity, despite leadership turnover.
“The buy-in among school leadership was real and perhaps unique,” said Kate Walsh, NCTQ’s president, in a statement. “And the commitment to continuous improvement among the districts and states highlighted here stands out. None of these systems were perfect out of the gate; system leaders recognized this and worked continuously to enhance system design, implementation, and use.”
In Tennessee at least, teachers have warmed to the evaluation system. This year, three-quarters of teachers said the evaluations improved their practice.
Here are some of the results from NCTQ’s analysis:
- In Dallas, most highly rated teachers stayed in the district after the 2016-17 school year, while half of the consistently unsatisfactory teachers left the district then. Also, the district credits the drop in the number of state-designated low-performing schools—from 43 in the 2013-14 school year to four this year—to the evaluation system.
- In Denver, most teachers who received evaluation ratings in the 2016-17 school year either received the same rating the following year or improved by one category (although NCTQ cautions that score inflation could have caused these increases). More than 90 percent of the district’s highest-rated teachers stayed in their jobs.
- In D.C., low-performing teachers are three times more likely to leave the district than high-performing teachers since the implementation of the evaluation system. Lower-performing teachers who stayed in the district improved their performance on average.
- Newark’s retention rate of highly effective teachers has also improved. And the district has a higher student enrollment now, which NCTQ attributes to increased confidence in the district.
- In New Mexico, teachers earn ratings that are substantially more widely distributed than teachers in other states. Typically, the bulk of teachers tend to be rated as effective—known as the Widget Effect—but in New Mexico, about a quarter are rated minimally effective. This data allows the state to work to eliminate educator-equity gaps, in which low-income students or students of color are predominately taught by ineffective teachers.
- In Tennessee, researchers from the state education department and Vanderbilt University have found that teacher improvement in 2013 to 2015, after the evaluation system was implemented, was “much more rapid and sustained” than teacher improvement between 2008 and 2010.
In many of these locations, NCTQ notes that student achievement has also increased since the implementation of the systems. However, these gains can’t be directly tied to the evaluation system without a controlled study.
Walsh called this analysis “a powerful testament that effective evaluation policies and practices are likely leading to improvements in the overall quality of a teacher workforce.”
However, teacher-evaluation reform is not a silver bullet. Recently, a study of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s multi-million-dollar, multi-year effort to make teachers more effective found that the new teacher-evaluation systems did not yield significant benefits for student achievement. Those systems were implemented in the Memphis, Tenn., district, along with two other school districts and one charter school consortium.
The lead researcher from that study said that focusing on teacher effectiveness alone “is not likely to be the potent sort of intervention that really moves the needle on student outcomes.”
And what’s happening in the locations in this analysis doesn’t necessarily translate to the national picture. Overall, most teachers continue to receive good teacher-evaluation ratings, including those who probably don’t deserve them, research from 2016 showed.
NCTQ says the key components of an effective evaluation system are: multiple measures for rating a teacher, including classroom observations, student surveys, and measures of student achievement; at least three rating categories; annual observations and evaluations for all teachers; written feedback after each observation; and professional development and compensation tied to evaluations.
Image via Getty
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.