Student Learning Matters in Teacher Evaluation

Share this

As shown in a recent Ed Trust–West report, teaching strongly influences student achievement: The average student taught by a highly effective English-language arts teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) gained half a year more learning than a student placed with an ineffective teacher. Unfortunately, LAUSD does not yet consider teacher impact on student learning when assessing teacher performance. But a new court ruling is expected to usher in change. In Doe v. Deasy, the court found that LAUSD has been violating California law by not including some measure of student performance in its teacher evaluation system.

The Los Angeles County Superior Court concluded that California’s Stull Act mandates that teacher evaluations include state standardized test scores as a measure of student learning. This provides LAUSD with leverage to replace its current evaluation system with a more meaningful one. But LAUSD will still have to make tough decisions about other evaluation system elements, including: how to measure student progress in grades and subjects without state standardized tests; how to incorporate student progress and other system components into overall performance ratings; and how evaluators and educators will be trained in implementing the new systems.

Across the nation, many other districts and states are struggling with these same types of decisions in efforts to inform and improve instruction. Luckily, a few school systems are pioneering new evaluations that could provide valuable insight. Tennessee is one such state, and a new report by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) provides an in-depth look at how educators there are responding to their new evaluation system.
SCORE finds that Tennessee’s new system, which includes student progress as a significant component, has had a positive effect on setting clearer, more rigorous expectations of what constitutes effective teaching. Additionally, more specific, frequent feedback has led to greater teacher self-reflection and collaboration about how to improve instruction and student outcomes.

As expected with any new system, several areas, identified by SCORE, still need tweaking. The report found that while principals are mostly positive about the system, teachers are less convinced of its benefits. This appears partly attributable to perceptions about whether the system has been well implemented. Many teachers feel their administrators lack the capacity or skills to assess practice reliably, and that teacher access to quality professional-learning opportunities tied to their performance feedback is also lacking. The design of the student-growth measure for teachers of non-tested grades and subjects has also been a point of contention. SCORE offers several recommendations for addressing these shortcomings, such as supporting school and district leaders to improve their instructional leadership and holding them accountable for doing so.

As LAUSD and others move toward implementing evaluation systems that better measure teaching quality, drawing upon lessons learned by places like Tennessee will be crucial to their success. No system will get everything right the first time — continuous monitoring and improvement will be required. But that shouldn’t stop policymakers from updating evaluation systems to better reflect the quality of teaching, based in part on the quality of student progress.

— Melissa Tooley