Stronger teacher evaluation systems benefit teachers and students

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New report from The Education Trust examines the importance of including multiple measures in teacher evaluations,
including high-quality observation, student outcomes

Publication date: 
September 22 2011 - September 22 2013

WASHINGTON (September 22, 2011) — Today, The Education Trust released “Fair to Everyone: Building the Balanced Teacher Evaluations that Educators and Students Deserve,” a new report outlining the importance of building stronger teacher evaluation systems to help all teachers become good and good teachers become great.

“Like all professionals, teachers want, need and deserve evaluation processes that accurately identify their strengths as well as areas in which they need to improve,” said Sarah Almy, director of teacher quality at The Education Trust and author of the report. “Right now, the evaluation systems in too many schools deny high-quality feedback and fail to provide paths to improvement. And that’s unfair to both the teachers themselves and the students who need their help.”

Most teachers are currently evaluated through “drive-by evaluations” — brief, annual drop-in observations of classroom practice. Teachers are rarely given criteria or standards used for these observations. And they rarely receive actionable feedback. In fact, no matter how strong (or weak) her instruction may be, or how much (or how little) her students learn, nearly every teacher in America is told she is doing a “satisfactory job” and given no advice about what or how to improve. This is despite the fact that everything we know about high-quality management suggests that professional growth requires strong evaluation systems that provide specific, timely and actionable feedback against clear standards of professional practice.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We have new tools that would give teachers the information and support that they need to grow as professionals. These tools can be deployed to create evaluations based on more concrete measures of performance and will serve both teachers and students well. While there can and should be variability from district to district and state to state, every teacher evaluation system should have two primary components:

  • Multiple visits by well-trained observers who evaluate teacher practice based on a clear set of performance standards.
  • Measures of teacher impact on student learning, such as multiple years’ worth of value-added data.

Value-added data can be one of the most informative, yet difficult to understand, indicators of teacher impact on student outcomes. This complex measure takes into account the past learning trajectories of an individual student as well as other students with similar academic and personal backgrounds. This allows for measures of growth to be based on fair expectations, and the teacher’s effectiveness to be based on her ability to nurture student progress.

“As we work to reach the shared goal of boosting overall achievement and closing the gaps, value-added analysis provides teachers and administrators with critical data about how much students have improved under their instruction. It provides a much clearer and fairer picture of teacher impact on student learning than do the evaluation systems in place in most districts or than does a single test score,” said Almy.

These kinds of enhanced systems have grown in popularity as more districts recognize the need to improve their methods of evaluating teachers. For the last 10 years, The System for Teacher and Student Advancement has worked in schools across the nation to develop stronger evaluation systems based on carefully executed observations and measures of student learning. A recent analysis of the program — which currently works with over 10,000 teachers and 100,000 students across the country — shows a strong relationship between the program and an improved quality of instruction over time.

“Teachers want to know more than just whether the job they are doing is satisfactory or unsatisfactory. Richer evaluation systems based on multiple measures will do just that,” said Richard Lemons, vice president for K-12 policy and practice at The Education Trust. “When done correctly, evaluations can be powerful professional development tools. With the data from better systems, administrators can identify opportunities for improvement and craft interventions and trainings that will help develop a stronger staff.”

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