Teacher evaluation: what’s urgent and important?

As states struggle to implement new evaluation systems, what (or more to the point, who) is missing?

A recent Government Accountability Office report indicates the shortcomings of the Obama Administration’s efforts to overhaul the nation’s diffuse teaching evaluation systems. As noted by Education Week reporter Alyson Klein, “Sustaining the new evaluation systems is going to be a tall order.”

Here’s some evidence:

  • Unstable measures. In some states, large numbers of effective teachers (with their abilities well-documented by their principals) earned low value-added scores as a result of their students’ performance on a single standardized test.
  • Uncertainty about how to evaluate teachers of non-tested subjects. School system administrators did not know how to hold some teachers accountable for student learning gains.
  • Out-of-sync standards and assessments. Teachers pointed out that they are already beginning to teach students in ways consistent with the Common Core State Standards. Meanwhile, they are being evaluated on the basis of outdated tests that do not reflect the new standards.
  • Lack of funding. State departments of education are struggling to support their evaluation systems—especially in rural, under-resourced school communities. In fact, officials from ten of the original 12 R2T winners report that once federal funding is gone they will not have the dollars to support the implementation of the systems they have created.

Yes, the technical limitations of using value-added test scores to judge teachers are problematic. In Teacher and Student Evaluation: Moving Beyond the Failure of Education Reform (hot-off-the-shelf!), Alyson Lavigne and Thomas L. Good outline a stunning critique of the R2T framework for assessing teachers using these statistical models. More than three years ago, Rick Hess predicted this consternation over how R2T dealt with teacher evaluation, particularly its simplistic and often inaccurate approaches to using value-added metrics.

Meanwhile, as systems struggle with how to use value-added test data to inform teacher evaluations, it seems that the very purpose of evaluation—to help all teachers better serve students—has eluded many, from the Obama Administration to state policymakers. As the GAO report notes, “Officials in a New York district said that the time commitment required for observing and evaluating teachers prevented some principals from thoroughly reviewing evidence submitted for evaluations or providing meaningful feedback to teachers.”

Helping all teachers improve. Providing teachers with meaningful feedback based on evidence and observations.

Hm… sounds urgent and important, doesn’t it? Like something you might want to do right away, even if you couldn’t use annual standardized test data… And maybe even a process you’d want accomplished teachers to inform and lead, right? #crickets

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