Although states have made great strides in updating teacher evaluation systems to incorporate rates of student achievement, very few are using the data to inform decisions about teacher preparation programs, professional development compensation and consequences for ineffective teaching. That's the takeaway of a report released Wednesday from the National Council on Teacher Quality.
While it's still unclear what the ideal evaluation system should look like, says Sandi Jacobs, vice president of NCTQ, there are a few measures that are critical: tracking student growth and achievement, as well as providing measures that give feedback for teachers to improve.
"We've made a huge shift from where we were just a couple of years ago, in terms of developing new systems that are really designed to measure teacher effectiveness," Jacobs says. "But states are in very different places, and some states have a lot more details sorted out than others do."
So far, 35 states and the District of Columbia Public Schools require that student achievement is strongly considered in teacher evaluations, but only 20 states and the District of Columbia use that information to shape professional development for teachers. Leading the way in terms of tying teacher performance data to other decisions is Louisiana, Jacobs says. While states such as Florida and Tennessee areclose behind, Jacobs says Louisiana stands out in its plans to use teacher evaluation systems to improve teacher preparation programs, to evaluate decisions about tenure, and tie the results to compensation.
Still, there are a handful of states, Jacobs says, that "to date really have nothing on the books about redesigning their teacher evaluation systems to really get at effectiveness." Most states, such as Kansas and South Dakota, for example, are somewhere between the two extremes: they have an evaluation system in place, but haven't entirely connected the dots.
Some education experts have been critical of the idea of tying student performance to teacher evaluations, for fear that teachers could lose their job if their students perform poorly on state and standardized tests.
"The stakes are high because teachers could lose their jobs if they have low ratings on these new evaluations. Their salaries and promotions could also be affected, as well as their standing among their peers," Jack Jennings, founder and former president of the Center on Education Policy, wrote in the Huffington Post. "The problem comes with many of the alternatives being proposed or implemented, especially those that rely heavily on tests."
But Jacobs says evaluation systems should look for student growth, rather than high proficiency rates, and that they should still include multiple measures of effective teaching, so as not to punish or reward a teacher solely on student performance. "We need to both attract and retain our most talented teachers, and compensation is one of the most important mechanisms we have to do that," Jacobs says. "There's really a lot of effort to make sure these systems are fair and valid."
Also critical to implementing effective teacher evaluation systems is making sure the measures line up with the new Common Core State Standards.
"Making sure that measures are aligned to what teachers are actually teaching is really important, especially if there's going to be accountability connected to it," Jacobs says.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement that although it's important to align evaluations with the Common Core standards, the "high-stakes consequences" of student assessments should not go into effect until the standards are fully implemented.
Additionally, Weingarten said policymakers need to provide teachers with more support and resources to improve their instruction and meet the expectations of the new standards.