In just the past few years just about every state has revamped how their teachers are evaluated. In 2010 the vast majority of teachers were evaluated by being observed for 45 minutes every couple years. Now, most teachers are evaluated annually based on multiple measures of their effectiveness. Although these new comprehensive evaluation systems have the opportunity to significantly impact the overall quality of our nation’s teachers, a new report from Bellwether Education Partners shows that they are still in need of improvement.
While these new evaluation systems are superior to previous evaluation systems, the report points out there is still room for improvement and provide five major findings with lessons for policymakers:
- Districts are starting to differentiate between poor, fair, and great educator performance, rather than treating all teachers as interchangeable widgets.
- Schools are using higher-quality classroom observation rubrics to provide teachers with better, timelier feedback.
- Despite state policy changes, many districts still don’t factor student growth into teacher evaluation ratings.
- Districts have wide discretion even under “statewide” evaluation systems—meaning that evaluation systems within the same state may look very different from one another.
- Districts continue to ignore performance when making decisions about teacher hiring, compensation, tenure, and dismissal.
As you can see “district” is explicitly mentioned in four of the five lessons and the fifth lesson about classroom observations typically falls under the domain of districts as well. This pretty much means the success or failure of these new evaluation systems depends in large part on our nation’s school boards as they are the policymakers at the district level. As the report points out, even in states that mandate the use of a statewide evaluation system school districts have significant discretion over how their teachers are evaluated.
As I argue in our report Trends in Teacher Evaluations it is imperative that districts have flexibility in how they evaluate their teachers. And it is good to see that this is the case, as the Bellwether report stated, “Evaluation reform has not meant the end of local discretion.”
While flexibility is necessary, districts also need support too. Few districts have the resources and expertise to implement an accurate and effective teacher evaluation system on their own. Districts need support from their states to help them align these new evaluation systems to the unique needs of their district.
While responsibility for designing teacher evaluation systems was originally placed on states, this new report clearly shows that these new teacher evaluation systems will only be successful if school boards are provided the resources not only to implement these evaluation systems but also to provide professional development opportunities that are aligned with the results of each teacher’s evaluation. Without proper support for districts, teacher evaluations are unlikely to have much of an impact on the quality of our nation’s teachers. – Jim Hull