Center for American Progress Releases Teacher Eval Report

The Center for American Progress has released a report this week that documents the progress states have made in the past several years towards implementing updated, comprehensive teacher evaluation systems. Recent moves by the Obama administration, such as the creation of the Race to the Top program and allowing the states to obtain No Child Left Behind waivers, triggered a move by many states to rethink the way they assess teacher effectiveness, and the CAP is now looking at how much progress there has been made in that direction.

There has been a focus recently on the design aspect of the new evaluation systems, but not enough on how well that design has been implemented and how effective the new systems have been in identifying effective teachers. The report, titled The State of Teacher Evaluation Reform, aims to fill that gap. The authors look at the teacher evaluation reform efforts undertaken by six states – Colorado, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Tennessee – and reviews how the lessons learned by these “early adopters” can be utilized by other states contemplating similar reforms.

As states adjust to their new, more ambitious role in supporting teacher effectiveness statewide, they are shifting from a traditional focus on compliance and accountability to a support and service-delivery mode. The report finds that many state departments are struggling to determine how to fulfill both functions simultaneously and often lack the capacity to do so. The states’ solutions to these challenges could prove instructive for other state education departments.

Since the way the K-12 education systems function differs from state to state, the problems that state education agencies dealt with in the course of designing and implementing their new systems differed as well. Some were stymied in their efforts by Constitutional restrictions on the role they could play in determining how districts assessed their own faculty; others lacked the fiscal means to bring in the manpower necessary to make the new system function properly.

From his analysis, Patrick McGuinn, the report’s author, predicts that even while benefiting from the experience of those that came before, each state will make mistakes and missteps while going through the process of developing a teacher evaluation system that meets their own special needs.

After looking at the challenges confronting the six states as they look to put their new assessment systems into practice, McGuinn provides a number of recommendations for other states that are also looking at adopting new evaluation systems for their teachers.

State education agencies must assess existing capacity and define an appropriate role for their work with districts and schools. This will require that they reallocate existing staff and budgets to focus on new responsibilities and build capacity.

States must also think about where they can provide something that districts cannot. This will enable their support to render the most praise from districts. State education agencies should also tailor their implementation timelines to the unique needs and recourses of their particular state.

States need to think long term about how to produce a supply of administrators with the training, technical expertise, and field experience to address their current human-capital challenges around teacher evaluation reform.