Tag Archives: Teacher Evaluation

All I Want for Christmas Is for People to Stop Using the Phrase “Education Reform”

In a recent opinion piece at The 74, Robin Lake casts off the label of educator reformer, arguing that “to imply that they are some monolithic group of reformers is ridiculous.” I agree, not so much because education reform has lost its meaning but because it never had a single definition in the first place. At the heart of reform is an acknowledgement that the educational system isn’t serving all kids well, but agreeing that the system could be improved is far from agreeing on how to get there.

definition of educationTo some people “education reform” is about holding schools and districts accountable for student outcomes, which can be viewed as either a means of ensuring that society doesn’t overlook subgroups of students, or as a top-down approach that fails to account for vast differences in school and community resources. To others education reform is shorthand for increasing school choice, or requiring students to meet specific academic standards to be promoted or graduate from high school, or revising school discipline practices that disproportionately impact students of color. Each of these ideas has supporters and detractors, and I suspect that many people who are comfortable with one type of reform vehemently disagree with another.

To take a specific example, consider teacher evaluation reform. One challenge in debating this particular education reform is that there are multiple ways teacher evaluation could change outcomes: one way is by providing feedback and targeted support to educators; another is the identification and removal of low-performing teachers. So even when “education reform” types favor a policy, they might have very different views on the mechanisms through which that policy achieves its goals. In the case of teacher evaluation reform, the dueling mechanisms created trade-offs in evaluation design, as described by my Bellwether colleagues here. (As they note, in redesigning evaluation systems, states tended to focus on the reliability and validity of high-stakes measures and the need for professional development plans for low performing teachers, devoting less attention to building the capacity of school leaders to provide meaningful feedback to all teachers.)

I personally agree with those who argue that teacher evaluation should be used to improve teacher practice, and I have written previously about what that might look like and about the research on evaluation’s role in developing teachers. In a more nuanced conversation, we might acknowledge that there are numerous outcomes we care about, and that even if a given policy or practice is effective at achieving one outcome — say, higher student achievement — it might have unintended consequences on other outcomes, such as school climate or teacher retention.

Instead of broadly labeling people as “education reformers,” we need to clearly define the type of reform we’re discussing, as well as the specific mechanisms through which that reform achieves its intended goals. Doing so provides the basis for laying out the pros and cons of not just the overall idea, but of the policy details that transform an idea into action. Such specificity may help us avoid the straw man arguments that have so often characterized education policy debates.

Will States Keep Student Growth in Teacher Evaluation Systems After ESSA?

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Shortly after the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) passed in December 2015, I predicted that the lack of federal requirements on teacher quality issues in the law would cause states to make changes to their teacher evaluation systems and laws. I was particularly concerned states would roll back the use of student growth measures — gains in student learning as shown through progress on assessments and/or student learning objectives over time, which are then used as one measure of teacher effectiveness. I argued that student achievement is a more robust and predictive measure of teacher quality than other measures such as classroom observations.

A little over two years later, a new policy snapshot from the Education Commission of the States (ECS) shows my prediction was partially right: In the 2017 legislative session, at least 20 bills/resolutions were enacted or adopted in 16 states addressing the purpose, design, authority, and progress of teacher evaluation systems. And while student growth measures are being reconsidered, they are largely not being abandoned.

Some of these newly introduced bills do not hamper the progress of teacher evaluation systems. For example, in Idaho, House Bill 300 provides funds to help districts comply with the state’s teacher evaluation requirements. But Arkansas, Kentucky, Michigan, and Utah completely removed student growth from teachers’ evaluations. While those are extreme cases, even Florida — a pioneer in the teacher evaluation space — made changes to its student growth component. Florida House Bill 7069 maintains the requirement that at least one-third of teachers’ evaluation be based on data and indicators of student performance, but removes the requirement that student growth be derived from the state’s value-added model — leaving the measure to district discretion.   Continue reading

Teacher Turnover Isn’t Always Negative – Just Look at D.C. Public Schools’ Results

Last week, two D.C. State Board of Education members wrote a memo to D.C. Public Schools’ new Chancellor — Antwan Wilson — asking him to focus less on district reform mandates and more on creating a culture of “transparency” and “support” in the district’s schools. The authors write that reforms such as teacher evaluation and school accountability based on student achievement have led to undesirable outcomes in the district, including higher teacher turnover. It is true that teacher turnover generally harms student achievement. However, what is true in general is not true in all places.

New data show that thanks to the teacher evaluation reform efforts in D.C. public schools (DCPS), teachers who exit the district tend to be lower performing:

Click to enlarge the image.

We also know from research that, on average, new teachers tend to be lower-performing than veteran teachers. But, that’s not what’s happening in D.C. The new teachers that D.C. has hired perform as well in their first year on the job as those they replaced:

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Ignore the Headlines and Dig into the Results: The Real Impact of Teacher Evaluation Reform

FL StoryThe headline “Florida teacher evaluations: Most everyone good or very good” in last week’s Orlando Sentinel felt like déjà vu. Similar headlines have graced the pages of local newspapers across the country, leading readers to assume that recent reforms of teacher evaluation systems weren’t worth the effort because teachers continue to receive high ratings. But that first impression is incomplete.

My colleague Sara Mead and I grappled with this idea in a recent report. At first blush, it’s true that reformed teacher evaluation systems haven’t substantially changed the distribution of teacher evaluation ratings. And there are logical explanations for those results.

But focusing purely on the final evaluation ratings misses important progress underneath the overall results. For example, my colleague Chad Aldeman highlighted a few specific places where teacher evaluation reforms served broader school improvement efforts. The progress does not stop there. The following studies point to other positive outcomes from teacher evaluation reform:

  • Greater job satisfaction among effective teachers. A new study of Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system released earlier this month found that when teachers receive higher ratings under the state’s reformed teacher evaluation system, the perceptions of their work improve relative to teachers who received lower ratings.
  • Higher turnover of less effective teachers. A 2016 report on the state of the teaching profession in North Carolina found that, for teachers at every experience level, those who left the profession had lower overall evaluation ratings and lower effects on student growth than teachers who stayed. The graph below shows the picture for student growth. The blue line shows the growth scores for teachers who remained as teachers in North Carolina, and the red line shows those who left. We don’t know if this is a story of correlation or causation, but at least North Carolina can now point to data showing that they’re retaining the best teachers.
NC Chart

Click to enlarge

  • Higher turnover of less effective probationary teachers. Similar to the outcomes in North Carolina, a 2014 study of New York City public schools found that teachers who had their probationary periods extended — that is, who were told they weren’t effective enough at that time to earn tenure — voluntarily left their teaching positions at higher rates. Although New York wasn’t actively dismissing low-performers, this notice was enough to “nudge” them to consider other professions.
  • Improvement of overall teacher quality. A study of DC Public Schools’ (DCPS) teacher evaluation system, IMPACT, shows that the evaluation system encouraged the voluntary turnover of low-performing teachers. When the lower performing teachers left the district, leaders in the district filled the open teaching positions with new teachers who were more effective than the ones who left. The result has been a rise in overall teacher quality in DCPS.

These and other teacher evaluation studies are complicated. They are not prone to eye-catching headlines. But nonetheless, teacher evaluation systems may be quietly having an effect on which teachers stay in the profession and, ultimately, whether students are learning.

We Have to Say More About Teacher Evaluation Reforms Than Just “They Didn’t Work”

In a piece for Education Next released last month, I looked at the Obama-era push for better teacher evaluation systems. As states and cities turn the page on that particular set of reforms, I wanted to pause and reflect on what we can learn from the last eight years. In the piece, I nodded toward some of the successes of that effort but spent more time reflecting on what could have gone better. I focused on four major policy mistakes:

  1. A universal approach of trying to get all states and cities to pursue teacher evaluation reform efforts;
  2. A narrow definition that focused too much on the specific elements of evaluation systems without leaving room to accomplish the same goals in different ways;
  3. An emphasis on process over purpose, which paid too much attention to the evaluation systems themselves and not enough on the actual use of those systems;
  4. A collision in timing with the rollout of Common Core that proved politically and logistically challenging.

These failures do not invalidate the entire theory of action that teachers matter and that improving the policies around how school districts hire, evaluate, compensate, and train teachers could lead to better outcomes for students. Encouraging school districts to evaluate teachers and principals at least in part on student growth, and to make consequential decisions based on those determinations, was never going to be an easy shift. It required new policies, new systems, and better tools, not to mention changing a culture that treated teachers as interchangeable widgets. For all these reasons and more, we haven’t seen the widespread changes President Obama or his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, might have hoped for when they made teacher evaluation one of their signature policies.

Still, failing to change everything doesn’t mean we’ve learned nothing. There’s a growing body of evidence that evaluation reform can be a viable school improvement strategy for places that want to pursue it. In my piece I cited a randomized controlled trial of the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF), which provided competitive grants for districts to revamp their evaluation and compensation systems. The study found that TIF led to gains equivalent to 10 percent of a year’s worth of learning in math and 11 percent in reading. There are other positive examples as well. Studies on evaluation reform efforts in Cincinnati, Chicago, Denver, New York City, and Washington, D.C. have found that comprehensive evaluation systems can help identify teachers who need to improve their practice, nudge low-performing teachers out of the profession, and, ultimately, boost student achievement. To be sure, these cities all pursued different sets of reforms, but they had the common thread that they were all trying to identify and act on differences in teacher performance.

In total, these positive examples provide evidence in support of the underlying theory of action on teacher evaluation reforms. Rather than discarding this era and moving on, as states and advocates seem wont to do, we should learn from this massive effort: what worked and what didn’t work and why.