Well-Designed Teacher Evaluation Systems Mean Improvements

Ashley Bateman, writing on Heartland.org, reports that results of a recent study show that when districts took pains to design good teacher assessment systems, the feedback from those systems not only had a positive impact on teacher quality but also translated to higher student exam scores.

Specifically, the study looked at the Teacher Evaluation System, a rigorous assessment program in place in Cincinnati schools, and found that as a result of TES performance of mid-career teachers showed definite improvement.

TES has been in place in Cincinnati since the 2000-2001 academic year, and since the system went into effect, students showed an average of 4.5% improvement in mathematics and reading scores after only one year. The gains were maintained when the children were tested again four years after the system started and every five years subsequently.

As implemented, TES is mostly comprised of peer evaluations. And contrary to most systems in place at the time, the walkthroughs by administrators or school principals only counted for 25% of the final score.

The study found that while the system’s overall scores tend towards grade inflation, rubrics and feedback individual evaluators provided were less lenient, leading the authors to suggest that, “Cincinnati evaluation program provides feedback on teaching skills that are associated with larger gains in student achievement.”

“Teachers have been notoriously been afraid of getting principals who don’t know what they’re talking about in evaluating,” Christie said. “If they can, [districts] should crystallize the use of peers or independent evaluators.”

The difference could be due to the investment the district made in training the evaluators. In Cincinnati, those who perform peer evaluations undergo training which costs the district over $2 million a year. When all expenses are tallied, it costs nearly $7,500 to evaluate one teacher in Cincinnati. According to the paper’s authors Eric Taylor and John Tyler, considering the impressive gains by the students, the expenses seems well justified.

The authors also note that while many policymakers and researchers oftentimes claim that midcareer teachers cannot be improved, Cincinnati proves “experienced teachers provided with unusually detailed information on their performance improved substantially.”

“An important thing to note is that this is just one study,” Taylor said. “In general, in social science or general study we want to see replication. That’s an important step for the future.”