Does evaluation make teachers more effective?

In Cincinnati, newly released research finds that teacher participation in a teacher evaluation system that includes highly structured classroom observations increases student performance. Released in the Fall 2012 edition of Education Next, the study looks at practice-based teacher assessment that relies on multiple, highly structured classroom observations conducted by experienced peer teachers and administrators.

Researchers examined a sample of midcareer elementary and middle school teachers in the Cincinnati Public Schools, all of whom were evaluated in a yearlong program based largely on classroom observation sometime between the 2003-04 and 2009-10 school years, with the schedule determined by a phased-in district evaluation system. They compared achievement of individual teachers’ students before, during, and after the teacher’s evaluation year, and found teachers to be more effective at raising student achievement in the year in which they were evaluated, and even more effective in years after evaluation. Improvements were most pronounced for teachers whose performance was weakest prior to evaluation.

As an example, a student instructed by a teacher after that teacher had been through the Cincinnati evaluation would score about 11 percent of a standard deviation higher in math than a similar student taught by the same teacher before the teacher was evaluated.

The data could not identify the exact mechanisms driving improvements; nevertheless, results suggest that veteran teachers may develop skills or otherwise change their behavior in a lasting manner as a result of undergoing observation-based performance evaluation. This contrasts sharply with the view that effectiveness of individual teachers is essentially fixed after the first few years on the job and suggests that well-designed evaluation may, in itself, be a valid form of professional development.

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