State of the States 2015: Evaluating Teaching, Leading, Learning

National_Council_on_Teacher_Quality_(NCTQ)_logoA new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) examines the policy landscape of teacher and principal evaluations, as well as various states’ successes in using evaluations to inform teacher practice and administrative decisions.

As of 2015, twenty-seven states require annual evaluations for all teachers, and forty-five require annual evaluations for all new, probationary teachers. Forty-three states require objective measures of student achievement to be included in teacher evaluations; seventeen use student growth as the “preponderant” criterion for evaluations; and an additional eighteen count growth measures as “significant” criteria.

Despite these new policies, however, NCTQ sees a “troubling pattern”: The overwhelming majority of teachers are still labeled as “effective” or “highly effective.” NCTQ notes this could be the result of several factors, including the fact that few states utilize multiple observations and multiple observers—which is problematic because many principals are either unable or unwilling to “make distinctions about teacher skills” when conducting observations. In addition, Student Learning Objectives (SLOs)—which are required or allowed by twenty-two states—are often a poor measure of teacher performance because teachers either lack the data and assessment training to select the best achievement goals or are indirectly incentivized to set low goals. (The other problem is that managers won’t give bad reviews to staffers they can’t fire, which is still the case in the vast majority of schools.)

Thirty-four states also require annual evaluations for all principals. Despite this majority, many principal evaluation policies lack important features. For instance, policies in twenty-two states do not identify who is responsible for conducting principal evaluations, and only twenty-seven states actually require principal evaluators to receive training. Most worrisome, there are ten states where teachers—but not principals—can be dismissed based on evaluation results. Given the monumental importance of effective school leadership, this is indeed troublesome.

NCTQ concludes the report with the following recommendations:

  • Not all policy created under the guise of “effectiveness” is good policy. Some states seem to have gone too far in the name of effectiveness and in the end have simply made policy that does not support teachers or students.
  • States must align principal and teacher evaluations. NCTQ’s review of the principal evaluation landscape makes it clear that these systems are often an afterthought to state efforts to build and implement a teacher evaluation process.
  • It is important to accentuate the positive. Much of state action towards putting the brakes on evaluation consequences heightens the perception that teacher evaluation is an ominous enterprise aimed at punishing teachers when in fact there is a great deal to be gained from performance-based evaluation if used to raise the profession and the skills of all teachers.
  • Don’t forget why student assessment is so important. In an atmosphere where there is little to no appetite for standardized testing, we’ve forgotten that it wasn’t long ago that parents had little information on how their children performed and schools had no accountability for ensuring that students learned.
  • Incentives are a stronger lever for change than force when it comes to teacher effectiveness policy. There is little question, looking at the evaluation policy landscape today, that incentives are a better strategy than force. The field has achieved much more by providing resources to states willing, able and ready to engage in teacher effectiveness reforms than by twisting the arms of unwilling states to adopt effectiveness policies.

To read the report, see

For additional commentary, see