Megan Wolfe

Teacher Evaluation for Effectiveness

Teachers know it, parents know it, and even students know it, but there seems to be no consensus across states, districts, and schools about how to measure it and ensure that it is measured fairly. I'm talking about teacher evaluations. Having an effective teacher at the head of the class is the most important in-school factor influencing student learning, and teacher evaluation systems are supposed to assess just how good teachers are in the classroom, with the goal of helping them improve as needed. But many teachers report that they are not evaluated often enough and, in some cases, are not even evaluated in the subjects they teach.

Research shows that students with high-performing teachers can progress three times as fast as students with low-performing teachers. Students deserve access to highly effective teachers in every subject, including (but certainly not limited to) math, science, language arts, history, civics, music, art, foreign languages, and physical education. To help teachers understand their own performance and help them improve, they deserve a fair and accurate assessment of their skills. Teacher effectiveness is dependent on accurate and fair evaluations based on multiple measures, including their students' performance in the subjects they teach.

Unfortunately, too many school systems use student test scores in math and language arts as a measure in evaluating teachers in all subjects and disciplines. Unfair? Yes, of course. This evaluation strategy results in inaccurate and misleading data about teacher performance that are often used in retention and compensation decisions. The consequences of evaluating teachers on student test scores in subjects unrelated to the ones they teach can be harmful, financially wasteful, and cause good teachers to leave the profession instead of getting them needed professional development to increase their effectiveness.

Teachers should be evaluated based on their performance in their own subject areas, using a range of criteria, including observations, peer reviews, parental or student input, and analysis of agreed-on student learning evidence. Evaluations that use these criteria are more likely to produce results that are relevant to the improvement of teaching and can serve as a catalyst for continued growth and learning for both teachers and students.

Yes, student test scores can be a valuable component of teacher evaluation, but care must be given to ensure that this metric produces results that truly benefit students, schools, and educators. ASCD has been working with a coalition of organizations on a set of recommendations for federal policymakers on this issue. We believe that teacher evaluations systems should:

  • Include student achievement measures that are directly attributable to the individual teacher's subject area in a manner that clearly reflects the teacher's contributions to students' learning.
  • Rely on evaluation instruments that accurately reflect the achievements being measured. These instruments should be used by individuals with sufficient expertise to accurately observe and interpret the outcomes under measurement.
  • Be based on curricula that are taught under model national, state, or local standards using clear criteria made available to the teacher in advance.
  • Take into account the number of students taught and the instruction time available.
  • Capture all levels of achievement from the beginning level of knowledge, skill, and ability, from which growth is expected to take place, to the very highest levels of mastery.
  • Be organized on a multiyear cycle to allow for appropriate professional development and growth.
  • Inform instructional improvement and professional growth to help teachers improve their service to students.

Policymakers and others who influence policy on teacher effectiveness and teacher evaluations must ensure that teachers are evaluated fairly, in the subjects they teach, and using multiple measures to get a broad picture of educator skill and practice.

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