State Teacher Evaluation Policy – Change for the Better?

The U.S. Department of Education recently released a report titled State Implementation of Reforms Promoted Under the Recovery Act  that examines the changes in state policies between the 2009-2010 school year (the year the Recovery Act was enacted) and the 2010-2011 school year (the first school year after funds were awarded). Between 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, the number of state education agencies that reported supporting differentiated teacher compensation based on student achievement gains increased from 7 to 9. That said, the number of states that used teacher evaluation systems that measured performance with multi-level ratings, were based on multiple observations, and were based in part on student achievement gains only increased from one to two in that same time period. Overall, we can see from this report that while state education agencies were using money from the Recovery Act to build up evaluation and data systems, it was a very slow process. Although a priority, most states were unable to make dramatic changes to their teacher evaluation methods in the first year following the enactment of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

However, CPE’s Trends in Teacher Evaluation report paints a slightly rosier picture when it comes to progress on teacher evaluation policy. Forty-one states now require or recommend that multiple measures be used when evaluating teacher performance, including student achievement data, classroom observations, and other factors such as student surveys and lesson plan reviews. The National Council on Teacher Quality recently released its 2013 State Teacher Policy Yearbook National Summary  which offered some interesting insight on the trends in evaluation methods over the last three school years.  One of the most striking things to come out of this report was that in 2010-2011, only 10% of states had policies in place that required teacher evaluations to include student achievement as a part of the teacher’s overall rating, but by 2012-2013, that number had increased to 80% of the states.

These changes can be attributed in large part to states seeing teacher evaluation with a new sense of urgency once their eligibility for Race to the Top money and No Child Left Behind waivers was tied to student achievement and using multiple measures in their evaluation systems. It seems promising that more states are enacting policies that use multiple measures to evaluate teachers, but we have yet to see how most of the policies will be implemented, much less how effective they will be once in place. If implemented well, they have the potential to help struggling teachers get the help they need and encourage good teachers to be great, but without proper implementation, these new policies on teacher evaluation could easily fall flat. While the efforts to enact these standards are admirable, it is too early to tell what impact these changes in evaluation will have on the teaching profession.

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