Teachers are the most important in-school factor affecting student achievement, and state leaders play a critical role in ensuring every student has equitable access to excellent teachers. High-quality teacher evaluations are an important component of comprehensive systems to ensure that all students are being taught by effective teachers. From them, districts and states can generate data that can positively impact teachers and students in numerous ways. This is why states have invested so much in them – since 2009, 37 states have updated their evaluation systems – and why they are so important to get right.
To this end, Education First has been working in partnership with the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) educator effectiveness team to support 11 states as they implement teacher evaluation systems. Each state faces a unique set of opportunities and challenges, but we have observed a few common themes across multiple states. These themes, outlined below, highlight areas where states can continue to play an important role in the implementation of teacher evaluation systems.
- Clearly articulate a theory of action, along with school and district expectations and flexibilities. In order for the evaluation system to benefit teachers and students, the state must be clear on how evaluations will contribute to developing teacher practice and improving student outcomes. How do departments across the state education agency use evaluations to help prepare, support and develop teachers? How much ownership do districts have over how the system is implemented? All stakeholders need to understand why the system exists, what is needed for successful implementation and who is playing what roles. The Delaware Department of Education offers schools and districts the option to use the statewide educator evaluation system DPAS-II, or develop alternative evaluation models that are customized to their local contexts. Delaware communicates to schools and districts the quality standards that alternative evaluation models must meet, but otherwise gives local educators the flexibility to design evaluation systems that work for their contexts.
- Ensure evaluation data is actionable. Data is only useful when it is used to guide decision-making. By ensuring that evaluation data is readily available and consistently analyzed, states can support districts as they provide targeted professional learning, make strategic teacher placement decisions and improve recruiting practice. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) has done this by analyzing evaluation data along with teacher attrition and mobility data so that school leaders and district officials can understand the effectiveness of the teachers they are losing and respond accordingly. Additionally, NCDPI created a dashboard that provides insight into teacher effectiveness by subject and grade level which allowed district leaders to provide more targeted support. The West Virginia Department of Education also has a focus on making actionable data available to its district leaders, principals and teachers. The department built a data system that includes evaluation data at the district, school and teacher levels. They are also making data from the system available for educator preparation programs to see the performance of new teachers in their first year.
- Communicate regularly with key stakeholders. Transparency is critical for an evaluation system. Current and prospective teachers should know how the system works, what is expected of them and how the evaluation will impact them. And other stakeholders should know about the progress of implementation along the way. States should set clear routines and expectations for communicating with teachers, school leaders, higher education leaders and others. Maryland has done this by creating the Maryland Council for Educator Effectiveness, a statewide advisory group that includes representatives from many stakeholder groups. This group convenes regularly to discuss the changes to Maryland’s teacher evaluation system. And other states like Mississippi and Oklahoma take a similar approach to communicating with their stakeholders.
- Build capacity in districts. In order for a teacher evaluation system to have positive effects on students and teachers, it must be implemented fully, consistently and reliably. School leaders must deeply understand how the system works and the specifics of their role; teachers must be clear on the expectations and opportunities. And that will only happen if district officials, school leaders and others have the skills they need to be successful. States should invest in targeted professional learning in practice areas that are important for teacher evaluations. For instance, we’ve heard from many states that school leaders struggle to give constructive feedback—thus denying teachers the insights they need to help improve their craft. By providing support in this and other areas, states can help to ensure that the evaluation system works as intended in schools. The Arkansas Department of Education created an extensive set of personalized and targeted professional development, which they call quests, informed by their teacher evaluation system.
State leaders are working hard to ensure that there are effective, well-supported teachers in every classroom. And teacher evaluation systems play an important role in achieving that goal. We look forward to working more in this area, and give our sincere thanks and admiration to the educators and school and district leaders working to make these systems better for teachers and their students.
Check out these publications for more information on work from Education First on supporting educators:
For more information from SREB about Educator Effectiveness, please visit www.sreb.org/ee.