In its latest policy brief, ASCD tackles the issue of teacher effectiveness and the steps that states have taken in the last several years towards quantifying it.
Using as her jumping off point the recent research findings that show that excellent, well-prepared and knowledgeable teachers make a world of difference to student achievement, Christy Guilfoyle goes on to examine how various states have tackled the problem of identifying and rewarding effective teachers while at the same time making sure that those that aren't doing their job well are removed from the classroom as quickly as possible.
As Guilfoyle explains, those changes have mainly come in the guise of new teacher assessment systems, many using objective criteria like standardized test scores or other student performance metrics to evaluate teacher quality. She agrees that the previously used systems – mainly comprised of teacher observation either by another teacher or by a senior administrator — didn't do a good job if identifying which instructors were good and which were not.
The New Teacher Project found that nearly 99 percent of teachers in some districts earned satisfactory ratings. In response to the report, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan remarked, "Almost all teachers are rated the same. Who in their right mind really believes that?" (2009, p. 4). The report found that most evaluations were based on two or fewer classroom observations totaling 76 minutes or less. Experienced teachers told Principal magazine about "evaluations that happened as infrequently as every five years. They got no or little follow-up, detailed feedback, or recommendations for improvement." 24).
Since 2009, more than 37 states either adopted whole new assessment systems or updated their existing ones to add an objective measuring component. According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, many did so in order to comply with the requirements of the Race to the Top federal grants or to receive No Child Left Behind waivers, but some did so in order to bring their assessment systems in line with the new Common Core Standards which provide a comprehensive set of student benchmarks.
While much of the current focus on teacher evaluation systems is centered on accountability, many have argued that it is equally, if not more, important to design and use evaluation systems to inform professional development efforts and improve student learning. With more than 3 million public school teachers in the United States, it is not possible to improve education simply by dismissing those who earn unsatisfactory ratings without also helping teachers improve their practice. The next issue of Policy Priorities will explore the ways evaluation systems can drive professional growth and the appropriate role and evaluation for principals and school leaders in these systems.