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What's the Future of Teacher Evaluation in the ESSA Era?


Back during the Obama administration, many states were working to tie teacher evaluation to student test scores, in part to get a piece of the $4 billion Race to the Top fund, or to get flexibility from the No Child Left Behind Act. 

Then Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, and the feds were totally barred from monkeying around with teacher evaluation. So have a ton of states dropped these performance reviews? And what has happened in the ones that didn't?

So far, six states—Alaska, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Oklahoma—have dropped teacher evaluations through student outcomes, according to the National Council of Teacher Quality. And other states have kept performance reviews, but made some modifications. Florida, for instance, has kept the student-growth measures, but allows districts to decide how they are calculated. More in this story from Liana Loewus.

Half a dozen states ditching teacher evaluation through test scores may not seem like a lot. But the number could climb after the 2018 gubernatorial and state legislative elections.

One state potentially ripe for a big shift: New Mexico. It has either the toughest or the most accurate teacher evaluation system in the country, depending on who you talk to. About a quarter of teachers in the Land of Enchantment are rated as "ineffective" or "minimally effective." In most other states, about 95 percent of teachers get satisfactory ratings.

But New Mexico's governor, Republican Susana Martinez, is term-limited. And many in New Mexico suspect her successor—GOP or Democrat—won't continue with the current system, which has faced serious opposition from teachers' unions and many educators.

Want more? Check out this story. 

Here's a taste of the conflict: On the one hand, there's state Democratic Sen. Mimi Stewart, a former elementary teacher who is now vice chairwoman of the Senate education committee. She said she's counting the days until Martinez leaves office, in part so that she can push through big changes to the evaluation system.

"We're running teachers out of the state," she said. "It's terrible. I have to go around and tell teachers, 'Hang on, hang on.' It's only another year. We will change things."

On the other hand, Christopher Ruszkowski, the state chief, said he doesn't understand how the state will ensure that every student has access to an effective teacher without a meaningful evaluation system.

And Ruszkowski thinks that states that step away from teacher evaluation tied to student outcomes are doing children a big disservice.

"I see states and other districts that have turned their back on decades of research about teacher quality as a black mark upon their records," Ruszkowski said. "Policymakers have essentially said this is too hard. And I don't think too hard should ever be a reason we don't do what's right for kids."

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