Experts argue teacher eval laws rarely backed by consistent research
The practice of factoring growth on student test scores into teacher evaluations gained momentum during the Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative, and even under the freedoms granted by the Every Student Succeeds Act, most states still focus largely on student assessment data and teacher evaluations to assess teacher quality, The 74 reports.
At a recent Education Writers Association seminar focused on the state of the teaching profession, Education Commission of the States policy analyst Stephanie Aragon said state policy concerning teacher evaluation has moved faster than researchers' understanding of what works and why, with three panelists at the event agreeing that teacher evaluations should be used to improve teaching. But researchers haven't yet discovered which methods can lead to better professional development and potential career growth for teachers.
Under the current system, some states and cities are doing a better job than others at providing valuable feedback and spurring teacher performance: The article notes improvement to teacher performance under the Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model and cites Dallas, Denver and Newark, as well as New Mexico, as systems that have refined their evaluation processes.
Evaluation is a normal part of most employment situations and can be valuable if it helps target areas of improvement and provides employees with ways to improve in those areas. However, teacher evaluations are often heavily based on student performance rather than their own, a practice that many teachers and teacher unions find concerning. While the students of effective teachers should show growth, many effective teachers may be in classrooms with more difficult students and more challenging circumstances, facing unfair comparisons under such a method.
Teacher observations are another popular method of evaluation. Yet this method also faces challenges as well. Some critics state the method is largely ineffective, while others argue that bias may affect outcomes. Still others argue that teachers — rather than administrators — should be the ones evaluating their peers under a more teacher-powered method.
While ESSA is allowing more flexibility in teacher evaluations, many states are uncomfortable moving far from these models with a clear path to follow. Some districts are trying more innovative approaches that may offer more options in the future. In the meantime, critics are concerned that high-stakes teacher evaluations, especially those tied to financial incentives, could lead to possible abuse or could stifle innovation.
Evaluations should serve two main purposes: to help teachers improve their craft and to weed out teachers who are doing more harm than good. With proper training and mentorship, most teachers can improve with experience, becoming more effective until they themselves can become mentors to others. However, teachers who are ineffective and do not improve need to be removed because of their adverse effect on education.
In his decision in Vergara v. California, Judge Rolf Treu wrote that, “Based on a massive study, Dr. [Raj] Chetty testified that a single year in a classroom with a grossly ineffective teacher costs students $1.4 million in lifetime earnings per classroom,” according to Bloomberg.
Correction: In a previous version of this article, the stat around ineffective teachers' impact on students' lifetime earnings was misstated as being for a single student rather than an entire classroom.