Stronger, deeper teacher evaluations bring success

Stronger, deeper teacher evaluations bring success

(District of Columbia) Almost a decade after the Obama administration began leveraging states to strengthen teacher evaluation requirements, evidence of improved student performance is beginning to show up in some jurisdictions, according to new research.

Using billions of dollars in grant money as an incentive, offered under the competitive Race to the Top program, the U.S. Department of Education sparked a nationwide effort to establish high-risk evaluations aimed at rewarding successful teachers and rooting out those who that were not competent.

Although the administration’s efforts were wildly unpopular among teacher unions and cost Obama politically, the concept of applying multiple measures of teacher effectiveness were widely embraced on a bipartisan basis and continue to have impact.

According to a new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, approximately half of the nation’s 100 largest districts and half of all states now require annual summative evaluations for all teachers with the results linked in some fashion to compensation.

The NCTQ took a deep look at six jurisdictions—four school districts and two states, all of which were early and aggressive supporters of teacher evaluations—found “tangible evidence” that the new tools are having an impact.

“Our analysis suggests that moving forward with teacher evaluations systems presents students and teachers with a huge opportunity,” said Kate Walsh, president of the NCTQ in a statement.

Prior to the Race to the Top grants, most states required school districts to perform only perfunctory review of tenured teachers and most had just two classifications—satisfactory and unsatisfactory, of which almost all teachers were endorsed.

By offering grants of up to $700 million for undertaking a reform agenda of their own making but guided by federal policy, almost every state took steps to restructure their school system, install new content standards and adopt new instructional programs.

While most of that money is long gone as well as the political muscle behind it, some states and school districts continue to be influenced by the effort, including some that were not awarded money.

The new NCTQ report looked at four schools districts: the Dallas Independent School District, Denver Public Schools, the District of Columbia Public Schools, Newark Public Schools; and two states: New Mexico and Tennessee.

Among them, several were RTTT winners—Colorado received $18 million; the District of Columbia, $75 million; New Jersey, $38 million; and Tennessee, $500 million.

New Mexico applied but didn’t win and Texas didn’t participate.

While there are variations among the teacher evaluations, each of the six systems share some key elements in common:

  • Multiple measures
  • Student surveys
  • Objective measures of student growth
  • At least three rating categories
  • Annual evaluations for all teachers
  • Professional development follow up

Improved pay is also a major component of several of the systems. In Dallas IPS, for instance, a teacher can achieve a salary of $100,000 within six years by winning top marks for performance. Previously, the district’s maximum pay topped out at $87,000 and took 37 years of service along with a doctorate degree.

To help train and retain new teachers, Denver Public Schools has developed a “playbook” that provides guidance on specific skills that have been found to make quick, measurable improvements in student performance. They also offer monthly incentives for working in the district’s high priority schools of up to $4,000.

New Mexico requires districts to keep track of teacher absenteeism, the only state to do so. Under their system, the state sets a minimum starting salary and then districts are free to establish their own scale.

Tennessee is set apart by establishing that teacher ineffectiveness is grounds for dismissal.

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