December 5, 2016

For Good Measure? Teacher Evaluation Policy in the ESSA Era

By Kaitlin Pennington | Sara Mead

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In 2012, as states and districts were in the trenches changing teacher evaluation policy, Bellwether Education Partners released The Hangover, a report that warned how teacher evaluation policies could undermine the impact of recently passed laws or prevent future innovation in instruction and teacher evaluation.

Our new report, For Good Measure?, builds on the findings from The Hangover and aims to inform states and districts as they consider changes to teacher evaluation systems after the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). 

For Good Measure?  transcends the polarizing politics and ideology of teacher evaluation to demonstrate the risks policymakers face in the ESSA era and advise on how to mitigate those risks. 

Specifically, the report makes the following recommendations to state and local policymakers and advocates:

Don’t rush to action
ESSA gives states flexibility to change their evaluation policies, but that doesn’t mean they have to do so right now. As states simultaneously change other education policy areas, they could create problematic and unintended interactions between initiatives. It may be wise to wait until the dust settles on other issues before making moves on teacher evaluation policy. 

Preserve a role for student achievement in teacher evaluation systems 
In light of political pushback, some states and districts are moving to eliminate student achievement measures from teacher accountability systems, but that is a mistake. Student achievement remains a far more robust measure of teacher quality than many others available. And including student achievement in teacher evaluation systems, even as only one of multiple measures, sends a clear signal that quality teaching is defined in part by impact on student learning.  

Consider the relationship between teacher evaluation and accountability systems 
Under ESSA, states have much more flexibility in both school accountability and teacher evaluations, and can choose to focus school identification and accountability efforts on only a small subset of schools. As state policymakers make changes to these two systems, they should think carefully about the role that each plays and avoid creating conflicting or misaligned incentives between teachers and schools. 

Invest in management and capacity to develop teachers and leaders
Developing school leader capacity is crucial to supporting quality teaching. Yet schools and districts radically underinvest in leadership capacity. While there are a variety of models for expanding this capacity, all of them require the education field to provide more robust support to teachers and invest much more in cultivating leaders who manage and support teachers. 

Identify strategies to capture and learn from state-by-state variation
The next iteration of teacher evaluation policies will have much greater variation across states and districts. This variation creates opportunities for learning—identifying both what works and what doesn’t among different approaches—but only if there are structures and capacity in place to do so. 

Teacher evaluation policy has undergone a lot of upheaval, but the ESSA transition can provide an opportunity to consider teacher evaluation as part of a larger effort to attract, retain, and leverage teacher talent in a way that may have been overlooked in recent reforms. This could mean more impactful teacher evaluation systems, but it could also mean ineffective ones that sneak under the radar of policymakers and advocates. It is up to states to lead the improvement of teacher evaluation systems in order to improve schools and support educational equity for historically underserved students. 

Read the full report here, or read it in the viewer below. 

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