During the 2016 legislative session, several states’ bills attacked the use of student growth as part of teachers’ evaluations. While many of those bills failed to make it over the finish line, a few became law. In particular, bills in Oklahoma and Hawaii officially remove student growth requirements.
The reason each of these states dropped requirements is different, but the justifications echo rhetoric from education leaders across the nation who have flip-flopped on including student growth in teachers’ evaluation. According to Oklahoma bill sponsors, now that student growth and achievement is optional, more emphasis can be placed on teacher professional development. And in Hawaii, bill supporters are hopeful that the change in the teacher evaluation system will help address the state’s teacher shortage.
Bill sponsors and supporters in Oklahoma and Hawaii have a point. There is no doubt that emphasis on improving teacher professional development is direly needed in many states and districts. And areas affected by teacher shortages (note: this is not a national issue, but rather a targeted one) need policy changes to address the shortages. However, there is no evidence that removing student growth and achievement from teacher evaluation systems is the solution to these problems.
Let’s start with professional development. As most professionals in education policy and practice know, even though there are large investments in professional development, most teachers are not improving substantially from year to year. But there is growing evidence that targeted feedback helps teachers improve, and some systems have had success using performance-based teacher evaluation for instructional improvement. Teacher evaluations systems can help identify the areas teachers need to improve through classroom observations and other state-determined metrics, but if those metrics do not closely align with student achievement, they become less useful.
Practitioners in Hawaii are not alone in blaming teacher shortages on teacher evaluation systems. The logic follows that teacher evaluation systems make teaching a less desirable career path due to the threatening nature of performance-based evaluations. But in recent years when Hawaii’s teacher evaluation system included student growth, the vast majority of teachers were rated effective. In the 2013-2014 school year, only two percent of teachers were rated in the state’s bottom two categories of “marginal” and “unsatisfactory.” In 2014-2015, the percentage decreased to less than one percent.
Using student growth measures in teacher evaluation systems started being debated more frequently after the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which does not require it as ESEA Waivers and Race to the Top did. We can’t directly attribute Oklahoma and Hawaii’s changes to ESSA, but the timing suggests other states might follow. The metrics for student growth and achievement in teacher evaluation systems are far from perfect, but the reasons for removing them, at least in Oklahoma and Hawaii, don’t make much sense.