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Teacher Evaluations as a Reform Tool

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Standardizing teacher evaluations in a state can provide consistency and tie evaluations to performance goals, according to a report. Evaluations that define quality and strive to improve student and teacher performance can be strong reform tools. Included: A new approach to teacher evaluations.

Interest among state officials and lawmakers in taking a more direct role in education reform by standardizing teacher evaluations got a jump start a few years ago from the report Improving Teacher Evaluation to Improve Teaching Quality, written by members of theNational Governors Association (NGA) Center for Best Practices.

Teacher evaluations can be effective mechanisms for increasing student achievement and improving instructional practices, if the evaluations are connected with academic standards for students and professional standards for educators, according to the report. Developing state evaluations ensures consistency throughout a state and shows if teachers are meeting state academic goals.

Bridget Curran, one of the report's authors, and a senior policy analyst with the NGA Center for Best Practices, recently talked with Education World about the study and how state officials could improve teacher evaluations.

"State involvement ensures consistency in the standards to which teachers are held across the state, but also ensures that standards for teachers are connected to the state's standards for students and to statewide improvement goals," says Bridget Curran, a senior policy analyst with the NGA Center for Best Practices.

Education World: What prompted the National Governor's Association to look at this issue?

Bridget Curran: The NGA Center for Best Practices decided to write and publish an issue brief about teacher evaluation because we detected growing interest among governors in learning more about how to improve teacher evaluation and make it a tool for school improvement. A number of governors are also interested in different ways of paying teachers, and for many of the new models of teacher pay, good models of evaluation are critical.

EW: What are some of the key ingredients for a comprehensive teacher evaluation program?

Curran: To write this brief, we looked at the existing literature and tried to synthesize the best information about good teacher evaluations. From that understanding of the literature, the critical components are:

  • standards for teachers that indicate what they should know and be able to do;
  • trained evaluators;
  • teacher participation in the design and implementation of the system;
  • useful and effective evaluation tools;
  • a clear understanding about how evaluation results are used -- whether they are used for instructional improvement and professional development, pay, and/or relicensure, or recertification.

EW: What steps need to be taken to change teacher evaluation processes from measuring teacher behavior to measuring teacher outcomes?

Curran: Governors and other state policymakers should:

  • define teaching quality.
  • focus evaluation policy on improving teaching practice.
  • incorporate measurable student learning as one piece of teacher evaluation.
  • create professional accountability through tiered licensure, career ladders, and/or performance-based pay.
  • train evaluators.
  • broaden participation in evaluation design to include teachers and administrators.

EW: What are the advantages of establishing these standards at the state level rather than the local level?

Curran: Establishing evaluation standards and models at the state level ensures some level of consistency across the state. States do not need to mandate all aspects of evaluation. They can set standards and offer models and let local districts tailor the process. State involvement ensures consistency in the standards to which teachers are held across the state, but also ensures that standards for teachers are connected to the state's standards for students and to statewide improvement goals.

By linking evaluation with academic standards for students and professional standards for educators, policymakers can transform evaluation into a more effective tool for improving instructional practice and improving student achievement. States should view evaluation as a tool to help administrators identify teachers who need additional or specialized assistance and to help all teachers improve their instructional practices. By coordinating evaluation at the state level, state leaders can also ensure that evaluation is part of their comprehensive efforts to improve teaching.

EW: How would you respond to teachers who might say that other professions are not subject to periodic state review?

Curran: I do not think we are suggesting that the state review teacher performance. We are suggesting that the state define the standards, develop tools and models for the evaluation process, and provide training to evaluators. Ultimately, the actual evaluation takes place at the building level. Most professionals are subject to periodic performance evaluations by supervisors or senior members of the staff. Usually these evaluations are formative but can also be used for employment decisions. School leaders at the local and state level do have a responsibility for ensuring a certain level of quality to students and their parents, but more importantly for using providing quality instruction and promoting continuous improvement.

EW: What, if any, action has NGA taken to follow up on this study since it first was released?

Curran: Mostly, the NGA Center has worked with individual states based on their interest and at their request. We are integrating the recommendations and the lessons we learned from producing the brief into our ongoing work on teachers and school leaders. Teaching and leading in high schools in particular will be a major focus in the next couple of years. I invite readers to explore the NGA site to learn more about the NGA Center's work on these and other education issues.

This e-interview with Bridget Curran is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.

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