Did states and districts move on teacher evaluation policy because of readiness or was movement a response to federal pressure? What will come of teacher evaluation now that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is law and federal pressure is gone? Specifically, which components of teacher evaluation may be up for debate? What should state policymakers be thinking about this legislative session when it comes to teacher evaluation?
As part of our forthcoming work on teacher evaluation, Bellwether convened policy influencers, state and district leaders, and researchers to discuss these and other current issues, questions, and opportunities with teacher evaluation policies. Sandi Jacobs, Senior Vice President of State and District Policy at the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), attended our convening. The below transcript is an e-mail exchange between Jacobs and Bellwether’s Kaitlin Pennington that transpired after the meeting between late January and mid-February. The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
Staff pictures for Bellwether Education, in Washington, DC. Photo by Toby Jorrin.
Kaitlin Pennington: At the end of last year, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was reauthorized. The new law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) strips all federal requirements on teacher quality issues. When it comes to teacher policy, it’s hard to say how states may react to new flexibility or how quickly for that matter. However, shortly before ESSA passed, I predicted that under the new law, new teacher evaluation policy in states and districts would be especially vulnerable to attack. Then, barely one week after reauthorization, leaders in New York and Oklahoma altered the teacher evaluation systems in their respective states.
It’s no coincidence that both New York and Oklahoma quickly pulled back on using student achievement in teacher evaluation. If I was a betting person, I’d place money on the fact that there are likely several states lining up behind New York and Oklahoma to do the same thing. It’s not that I think teacher evaluation as we’ve known it for the last five to eight years will be a thing of the past, but I doubt student achievement will be a component—and definitely not a significant component—in the majority of states and districts due to the lack of federal oversight in ESSA.
NCTQ is known for all things teacher policy, and your most recent State of the States provides a comprehensive look at how states are evaluating teachers. So what do you think? What’s going to happen to teacher evaluation policy post-ESSA?
Sandi Jacobs: I’m just not sure that the reauthorization of ESSA is going to have much impact on states’ teacher evaluation policies. There is a perception that ESSA has done away with requirements for teacher evaluation that were in No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and that is just not the case. No version of ESEA has included a set of mandates around teacher evaluation.
Of course it is true that there was were some serious federal carrots and sticks around teacher evaluation, coming first with Race to the Top (RTT) and then with the ESEA waivers. And especially through the waivers, the feds certainly “encouraged” some states to move farther and faster on teacher evaluation than they really wanted or were ready to do. But it just isn’t my sense that that is the case for most states.
In our most recent scan in late 2015, we found just five states (California, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska and Vermont) that had no formal state policy requiring that teacher evaluations take objective measures of student achievement into account in evaluating teacher effectiveness. And only three states – Alabama, New Hampshire and Texas – had evaluation policies that existed only in their waiver requests. It was far from a secret that there were states doing nothing on teacher evaluation; Texas was far from quiet about it. Yet most states kept moving.
It is a certainty that states are going to continue to fine-tune their teacher evaluation requirements. (Appendix B of our State of the States report attempts to capture the considerable amount of changes states have made just to the weight of student growth measures over the last five years; within all those changes we only found three states that no longer appeared to require it as a significant factor.) What remains to be seen is whether there will be wholesale backpedaling.
I’m cautiously optimistic. There will certainly be political pressure to roll back requirements in some states. The simultaneous implementation of new college- and career-readiness assessments and new teacher evaluation systems has been a significant challenge, one that has unfortunately amplified the pushback to each issue individually. But while much work remains on implementation, the policy landscape around teacher evaluation is completely transformed in this country, and that’s not going to be easy to undo.
And one more note – a teacher evaluation bill is currently moving in the Alabama legislature, one of the eight states that currently does not require student achievement to be part of teacher evaluations.
Kaitlin Pennington: I hear what you’re saying, but I’d like to push on a couple of things. Continue reading