As teacher evaluations are becoming more prevalent in schools across the country amid a growing debate on how best to grade teachers, a new report out today adds to the growing number of studies concluding that student test scores should be one of several determinants in measuring student effectiveness.
Instead, teachers should be assessed based on a combination of classroom observations, student feedback and value-added student achievement gains, according to the Measures of Effective Teaching project's paper, "Gathering Feedback for Teaching." Educators should be observed by certified raters through multiple, high-quality observations with clear standards.
Value-added analysis calculates a teacher's effectiveness in improving student performance on standardized tests -- based on past test scores. The forecasted figure is compared to the student's actual scores, and the difference is considered the "value added," or subtracted, by the teachers.
The report is the second in a series of four on effective teachers, and is authored by Thomas J. Kane, deputy director of research and data at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and professor of education and economics at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Douglas O. Staiger, professor of economics at Dartmouth College.
The authors provide the following six suggestions for minimum requirements in quality classroom observations:
- Choose an observation instrument that sets clear expectations
- Require observers to demonstrate accuracy before they rate teacher practice
- Require multiple observations prior to high-stakes decisions
- Track system-level reliability by double-scoring some teachers with impartial observers
- Combine observations with student achievement gains and student feedback
- Regularly verify that teachers with stronger observation scores also have stronger student achievement gains on average
School districts, however, may face a challenging balance of creating a comprehensive, detailed evaluation system that isn't so complicated that it becomes too convoluted for evaluators to effectively and accurately rate educators, the authors note.
"No measure is perfect. But if every personnel decision carries consequences -- for teachers and students -- then school systems should learn which measures are better aligned to the outcomes they value," the report reads. "We should refine these tools and continue to develop better ways to provide feedback to teachers. In the meantime, it makes sense to compare measures based on the criteria of predictive power, reliability and diagnostic usefulness."
In a statement Friday, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, however, points out that the study fails to offer suggestions on how to use that evaluation process to improve teacher practice.
"The findings illuminate what we have learned in our work in school districts across the country," Weingarten said. "Until we make a commitment to develop evaluation systems that are first and foremost about continuous improvement and professional growth, we will continue to struggle in our efforts to provide every child with a high-quality education."
The Bill & Melinda Gates report is just one of many that offer recommendations for best practices in teacher evaluations, and Weingarten's statement reiterates a continuing hurdle districts, lawmakers and educators must overcome. The debate acknowledges that current systems are flawed, but few have been able to come to a consensus on how best to fix them. A November report questions whether value-added teacher ratings should be adjusted for poverty to account for challenges that teachers face in high-poverty schools.
And despite heightened focus on teacher evaluations, a report out the same month showed that there are few professional development methods that have proven to effectively promote student learning. Robert Pianta, the study's author, notes that evaluations should be used to assess and target areas that teachers can improve and bolster their skillsets, rather than for the current common practice of firing ineffective teachers said to be dragging student performance.
"It is a travesty that despite districts spending thousands of dollars per teacher each year on professional development, these dollars are most often spent on models that are known to be ineffective," Pianta wrote in the paper, "Teaching Children Well: New Evidence-Based Approaches to Teacher Professional Development and Training."