Spring Cleaning on Teacher Evaluation

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This blog is a guest post written by Marisa Goldstein with the Aspen Institute Education & Society Program.

With the days getting longer and warmer, it’s high time for spring cleaning. As we roll up our sleeves, sort through our closets and prune back hedges, legislatures across the country are embarking on their own version of spring cleaning: taking a fresh look at existing teacher evaluation systems that often include student growth measures and deciding whether to polish or scrap them.

States have worked hard over the past several years to design and implement systems and measures for assessing teachers’ effectiveness. Now that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has eliminated the requirements for teacher evaluation systems established under the No Child Left Behind waiver process, states have flexibility to determine their next steps for evaluating and supporting teachers.

Some legislators and stakeholders are understandably frustrated with how teacher evaluation systems have played out politically and in the field. Concerns about evaluations being used to solely rank, sort and fire teachers frequently have led to anxiety around the evaluation process, even though most systems have not resulted in significant differentiation or layoffs. To be clear, accountability is an important function of teacher evaluation systems, but it cannot be the only purpose; systems must also focus on the core purpose of supporting teachers to grow in their practice in order to improve student learning. Now that states are several years into implementation, they have a prime opportunity to revisit and refine their theories of action on teacher evaluation and make changes to improve those systems.

In an earlier post, we shared five strategies state policymakers can take to advance effective policies in the ESSA era. These recommendations can also be applied to teacher evaluation. For example, before taking action on teacher evaluation, states should consider engaging with practitioners early and often.

That recommendation is one of ten strategies proposed by the Aspen Institute Education & Society Program in Teacher Evaluation and Support Systems: A Roadmap for Improvement, a new resource for state policymakers. Most of these recommendations do not require sweeping legislation but rather small policy tweaks or improvements in state and local capacity. Based on what we learned from states and districts that have been exploring practical ways to improve teacher evaluation systems, we offer the following recommendations:

  1. Prioritize principal and evaluator training and certification with a focus on professional growth.
  2. Differentiate evaluation and support based on teachers’ experience and past performance.
  3. Allow teachers and observers to collaborate on areas of focus.
  4. Allow for local discretion in accounting for student learning.
  5. Respect the limitations of value-added data.
  6. Support locally developed measures while pursuing improvements in their creation and use.
  7. Make sure all important aspects of teaching performance are valued in evaluations.
  8. Engage teachers in improving teacher evaluation systems.
  9. Develop measures for testing the integrity of evaluation system design and implementation.
  10. Tell stories that go beyond performance ratings.

As ESSA brings new possibilities for education policy, states have an opportunity to roll up their sleeves and apply some elbow grease to make needed improvements to teacher evaluation systems. Legislators can support this important work by not rushing to toss systems but by refreshing and refining them to better support teachers and students.

To learn more about the Aspen Institute’s state education policy work and find resources to support policymakers and others, visit: http://www.aspeninstitute.org/policy-work/education-society.  

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