Rating Early Elementary Teachers: Where’s the Data?

newamericafoundationA new report, “An Ocean of Unknowns”, from Laura Bornfreund at the New America Foundation describes the challenges involved with attempting to reform teacher evaluation systems to include student data for pre-k through grade 2 students.

Following are portions from the executive summary of that report:

What is the best way to use data to measure teacher impact on student learning? States and school districts are attempting to navigate these uncharted waters. As of 2012, 20 states and DC require evidence of student learning to play a role in evaluating teacher performance. As a result, better information on student learning is in high demand, and no grade level is immune.

Historically, most states have required standardized testing only in grades three through eight. But now those 21 states, with likely more to follow, must figure out comparable ways to measure student learning in the “untested grades,” as well, including pre-K, kindergarten, and grades one and two.

This paper provides a snapshot of how student achievement data are being used in teacher evaluation systems today and illuminates the issues causing states and school districts the most struggles. Most states are using one of or some combination of three approaches: student learning objectives, shared assessments, and shared attribution.

Here is a breakdown of the three methods:

The first approach, student learning objectives (SLOs), centers on a teacher’s students. The teacher—with his or her administrator—creates a measurable objective, identifies an assessment to measure that objective, and establishes a challenging but attainable target for students.

Opportunities with SLOs:

  1. They foster school-level collaboration and shared priorities.
  2. They can help improve instruction.
  3. They can help teachers better meet individual student needs.
  4. They can support a more well-rounded curriculum.
  5. They attain teacher support.

Risks with SLOs:

  1. They are resource-intensive to develop.
  2. There is limited expertise at the district- and school-levels.
  3. They come with an inability to compare teachers.
  4. They come with a high potential for manipulation.

The second approach is creating or identifying shared assessments at the district or state level.

Opportunities with Shared Assessments:

  1. They facilitate comparisons across schools and districts.
  2. They could build skills transferrable to the classroom.

Risks with Shared Assessments:

  1. They require significant financial and time resources to develop.
  2. There are too few appropriate assessments.
  3. They could lead to curriculum narrowing and teaching to the test.
  4. There are important concerns about test security.

The third approach, shared attribution, uses a school-wide, value-added score. Typically this is based on results from evaluations from third to fifth grade, such as third grade reading scores on a state’s standardized test to determine the growth rating for a kindergarten, first, or second grade teacher.

Opportunities with Shared Attribution:

  1. It promotes shared accountability.
  2. It uses existing resources.

Risks with Shared Attribution:

  1. It does not help to provide useful individualized information to teachers.
  2. It does not help to differentiate teachers in a meaningful way.
  3. It does not measure a teacher’s impact on her own students’ learning.

Following are the final recommendations of the report:


  1. Account for specific attributes of PreK-3rd teachers.
  2. Pilot and evaluate.
  3. Do not use “shared attribution” measures from later grades as the sole measure of student growth to evaluate early grade teachers.

For more information, please visit:http://earlyed.newamerica.net/publications/policy/an_ocean_of_unknowns

To access the full report, see: http://earlyed.newamerica.net/sites/newamerica.net/files/policydocs/OceanofUnknowns-LBornfreund.PDF