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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Where teacher evaluation works

Teacher evaluation can make a difference — if done well, concludes a National Council on Teacher Quality study of Dallas, Denver, the District of Columbia, Newark, New Mexico and Tennessee.

Unlike some evaluation systems, which ended up giving nearly all teachers the same rating, these six systems were able to distinguish between teachers at different levels of effectiveness.

A “highly effective” teacher who works in a high-poverty District of Columbia school can earn a $25,000 annual bonus.

Each evaluates all teachers every year, using both objective and subjective measures, gives weight to student progress, uses three or more ratings categories and “ties the professional development a teacher should pursue” and opportunities to earn more money to evaluation results.

Retention rates are very high for the highest-rated teachers, low for ineffective teachers. There’s also evidence that students are learning more in Dallas, D.C. and New Mexico.

The Gates Foundation’s $215 million teacher evaluation reforms aimed to boost achievement, especially for low-income students of color, writes Thomas J. Kane in a “lessons learned” essay in Education Next. He’s the Walter H. Gale Professor of Education and faculty director of Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research.

Gates worked intensively with seven sites. According to a recent evaluation by RAND, student outcomes did not improve faster than at comparison districts in the same states.

Was it a failure? It’s hard to say, concludes Kane. Most of the comparison schools were implementing similar reforms.

In the future, instead of funding broad initiatives, philanthropies should finance “smaller-scale pilots, with comparison groups, developing the evidence base, so that the public agencies can decide what to scale up later,” he writes.

There’s evidence that teacher evaluation improved achievement — outside the seven partnership sites, he adds.

Multiple studies across the country have found that providing evaluation data to teachers and principals led to higher exit rates for ineffective teachers, including in New York City (Loeb et al in 2015),  Houston (Cullen et al in 2017), and Chicago (Sartain and Steinberg in 2014). The public schools in Washington, DC—which implemented many of the same reforms that the intensive partnerships sites proposed—saw the largest gain in student test scores of any state in the history of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) between 2007 and 2015 (see “A Lasting Impact” research, Fall 2017).

The bipartisan alliance supporting education reform “collapsed in 2015, leaving teacher-quality reforms in limbo,” Kane concludes.  Foundations “should be supporting local think tanks, business alliances, and civil-rights groups to formulate an education reform agenda with local roots.”

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