New teacher evaluation systems are an increasingly common aspect of teachers’ daily lives. To ensure that all students have access to quality teaching, the vast majority of states have adopted new, more rigorous teacher evaluation systems over the past five years based on multiple measures of teacher performance, such as evidence of student learning and observations of classroom practice. These new systems hold enormous potential to inform ongoing teacher growth and support, particularly through their ability to provide feedback on teaching practice. However, to date, most of the public narrative—and teacher push back—surrounding evaluation has centered on its use for rating teachers in an effort to inform high-stakes personnel decisions, such as pay, promotion, and dismissal.
Given this, some might be puzzled, or even bristle, at the suggestion that data from evaluation systems could be used to drive instructional improvement. But the federal policies that spurred these new systems always intended for them to be as much about accountability as support. In fact, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) recently found that 30 states and Washington DC have put policies in place requiring evaluation to inform teacher development.
If this is the case, why is teacher development still missing from the public narrative on—and most teachers’ daily experiences of—evaluation? Are states fully harnessing evaluation systems’ potential for improvement? And what supporting policies and practices have they put in place to do so?
A new report, Beyond Ratings: Re-envisioning State Teacher Systems as Tools for Professional Growth, finds that even those 31 states (including Washington DC) that have a policy requiring evaluation to be linked to teacher development vary widely in the supporting policies that can help local education agencies make the link. For instance, 22 of the 31 states require annual evaluations, but only 9 require multiple observations annually for all teachers, which can limit how often teachers receive feedback on their practice. Similarly, states vary in their requirements for the training and certification of evaluators—a critical foundation for ensuring educators receive feedback that they can trust. And only about half of these states have policies in place that promote formal development structures, such as teacher professional growth plans, for all teachers. The other half only require them for struggling teachers, reinforcing a notion that “improvement” is something needed only when a teacher is not performing well, rather than something all teachers do as part of an orientation toward ongoing learning.
What this report calls for then is a shift in states’ communication, support, and monitoring of evaluation as a tool for professional growth so that LEAs capitalize on the information teacher evaluations provide to propel teacher professional learning.
For more commentary about this report, see http://www.edcentr.al/beyond_ratings/
To read the full report, see Beyond Ratings.