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Achievement Data in Teacher Evaluation

I recently did a story on two states, Idaho and Georgia, that are moving to standardize their teacher-evaluation processes through the use of performance-based frameworks. These frameworks spell out what good teaching should look like and what types of evidence evaluators should consider in making determinations about teacher performance.

One of the subtexts that I didn't get to explore fully in this story concerns whether student- achievement data should be part of these evaluations. It's a tough question that runs parallel to the debate over the place of test scores in performance-pay programs.

One of the teacher-evaluation experts I spoke to, Charlotte Danielson, has a lot of concerns with the use of test-score data for evaluation purposes given the still-developing research base around "value added" methodologies for isolating teachers' contributions to student learning.

"The details of it are so fraught, that I’m not optimistic about it being done in any fair way," Danielson told me. "High stakes and high rigor is fine; what worries me is high stakes, low rigor."

Some groups, like the National Council on Teacher Quality, argue that states should make objective measures of student learning the preponderant criteria for evaluations. Only Florida currently does so; 15 other states look at some type of achievement data. And in South Carolina, an educator cannot be deemed satisfactory on an evaluation if he or she does not score sufficiently high on the student-learning portion of the evaluation.

Sandi Jacobs, an NCTQ official, said student achievement needn't be limited to test-score data. It could include examples of student work.

Idaho isn't going wading into this controversy for now. A draft of the state's evaluation standards will likely require teachers to demonstrate how they use assessments in their teaching, but won't actually base the evaluations on assessment results, said Tom Luna, the state superintendent.

Georgia, though, is putting a tentative toe into this pool. Its new evaluation instrument, being piloted in about 30 districts, includes a requirement for teachers to show their students are learning.

The state will leave it up to each district to identify the measurement instrument to be used, while individual principals, administrators, and teachers will set the benchmarks that indicate that a teacher is "emergent," "proficient," or "exemplary" in improving student achievement.

An official I spoke to in the state education department, Barbara Lunsford, said she hopes the pilot will produce feedback about how best to integrate student-achievement data into evaluations without negative consequences.

"We want [to have] that conversation about how do you hold a teacher accountable for student learning in a fair, justified way.That’s the elephant in the room," she said. "We don’t want any system that jeopardizes teachers' wanting to be in schools where kids have [the greatest needs]."


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