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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

Topic: teacher evaluations

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September 3, 2014 at 4:00 AM

Guest: How to set up evaluations that help teachers improve

Rosaline Zhang

Rosaline Zhang

In March, Washington state lawmakers ended the legislative session without passing a bill to incorporate student test scores in teacher-principal evaluation systems. As a result, Washington became the first state to lose its No Child Left Behind waiver, along with control of $40 million in federal funding. The U.S. Department of Education requires states that have received waivers to use statewide standardized tests as a factor in evaluations.

Legislators need to move past the debate on whether to use testing data in evaluations. The failure to pass the bill puts Washington’s evaluation system behind the rest of the country. Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia Public Schools have already changed their laws to require that measures of student achievement be a significant or the most significant factor in teacher evaluations. The new generation of evaluations is here to stay.

Critics can argue over what measures of student achievement are the most accurate, or how much these measures should factor into evaluation ratings. But these arguments miss the bigger picture: When executed properly, evaluations can help guide teachers’ professional development. Only after Washington state law is changed can lawmakers and district leaders begin focusing on what will really make a difference for our teachers and students: evaluations that help teachers get better.

So what is the key to maximizing an evaluation system’s potential to help teachers improve their craft? Important lessons can be drawn from early adopters of the new generation of evaluation systems. In the 2012-2013 academic year, an urban school district serving Houston piloted a system that incorporated both classroom observations and student learning measures.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Rosaline Zhang, teacher evaluations

June 6, 2014 at 9:00 AM

Guests: How gaps in teacher quality widen the gaps in student achievement

Dan Goldhaber

Dan Goldhaber

Lesley Lavery

Lesley Lavery

Roddy Theobald For an op-ed

Roddy Theobald

In the summer of 2013, Seattle Public Schools adopted a five-year strategic plan that includes the laudable goal of ensuring educational excellence and equity for every student. The plan cites the “significant demographic achievement gap” in the district, and seeks to address this gap by calling for “an equitable distribution of resources that prioritizes the needs of students.”

Recognition of achievement gaps and calls to address them are not new. What is new is our capacity to identify the resources that contribute to or ameliorate these gaps. Compelling research over the last decade has shown that when it comes to in-school resources, teacher quality is what matters most. Unfortunately, Seattle has a long way to go toward ensuring that this crucial schooling resource is equitably distributed across students.

Teacher quality is hard to define and may mean different things to different people, but we don’t need to agree on a particular measure of quality to come to the conclusion that it is inequitably distributed across students. In fact, a variety of different measures show that disadvantaged students in Seattle Public Schools are less likely than their more advantaged peers to have access to a high-quality teacher.

As one example, students receiving free or reduced price lunch in Seattle’s seventh-grade math classrooms are more than twice as likely as their higher-income peers to be taught by a teacher with fewer than two years of experience (about 12 percent versus 5 percent of students).

This teacher-quality gap is not unique to middle-school math, or to this particular measure of teacher quality or student disadvantage. It shows up at the elementary- and high-school levels, when teacher quality is based on a value-added measure of teacher performance or credential exam scores, and when the comparisons are made between white students and historically disadvantaged minority students.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Seattle Public Schools, teacher evaluations, teacher quality

April 22, 2014 at 11:11 AM

Guest: Let’s call a truce on teacher evaluations

HAUSMAN_BioPhoto

Todd Hausman

Common sense is hardly commonplace in education policy today. Alliances are formed in Olympia, yet nobody is playing to let anyone else win. As a result of this mutual distrust, no improvements were made to our evaluation system during the recent legislative session.

Teacher evaluations have really become the crisis du jour in public education. Washington is at risk of losing its waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements and thus its control over approximately $40 million for low-income students. However, the debate in Olympia has largely been about preserving the quantity of federal funds, not the quality and strength of our teacher-evaluation system. So, while legislators were busy quarreling over whether to make student growth on statewide tests part of evaluations, they missed other opportunities to make actual improvements.

Done well, teaching is a highly complex art, and an evaluation of that art should not be simplistic. Evaluations should also be reliable enough to inspire trust among educators. The Washington State Teacher/Principal Evaluation Pilot (TPEP), first introduced in 2010, was definitely a step in the right direction. Teachers and principals are more focused on what students are learning than ever before, and they are looking at evidence of student growth. Yet, teacher evaluations haven’t exactly achieved a state of nirvana. In fact, there are several concrete ways in which they could still be improved.

With TPEP, a single observer still largely determines teacher evaluations. Usually, this is a school administrator. Even if that person is a dynamic instructional leader, and some are not, evaluation based on a single observer is bad science all the way around. So we still have a system that is devoid of checks and balances. That’s why we should consider multiple measures of a teacher’s effectiveness, such as student perception surveys and peer reviews, to increase reliability and fairness.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: No Child Left Behind, teacher evaluations, Todd Hausman