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UPDATED: The Magic Number in Teacher Evaluations

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Colorado's tenure and evaluation-reform bill passed with most of the core details intact, making what are probably the most aggressive Race-to-the-Top-inspired teacher-quality policy changes to date. The law includes a requirement that teachers be deemed "effective" three years running to earn tenure and a provision that would cause teachers to revert to probationary status if they have two successive "ineffective" ratings. (An appeals process will be granted to such teachers.) Effective teaching will be defined by making student-achievement growth at least half of the evaluation.

New York officials, in the meantime, have struck an agreement that would base 40 percent of the evaluation on student achievement. It also specifies that state standardized-test scores won't be more than than 20 percent of the evaluation with local measures forming the other 20 percent. The state legislature still must approve it.

The New York example is significant for another reason, though. Maybe I'm making a mountain out of a molehill, but it's the only one I know of so far that's mandated a student-achievement weight of less than 50 percent. That figure is so ubiquitous out there—Tennessee, D.C., Florida, and Louisiana all have it or have proposed it, while Rhode Island and Indiana proposed 51 percent—that a lot of people think it's part of the Race to the Top guidelines. (It isn't.)

Department of Education officials claimed there was no "magic number" to succeed in the teacher section of the Race to the Top application, but somehow all these lawmakers have fixed on one regardless.

There is not a whole lot of precedent for 50 percent. Some of the most famous extant evaluation/pay models, such as the Teacher Advancement Program, typically base only a quarter to a third of evaluations or pay on student achievement. UPDATED: The TAP folks wrote in to remind me that it's 50 percent when you consider both school-based and individual value-added measures; in the previous sentence I was referring only to individual VA. Sorry if this threw anyone off.

I can think of only one state so far that's left the student-achievement figure up to locals: Illinois. Even that law, though, has a trigger that would let the state board decide the figure for districts that dawdle in setting one with their local unions. Want to bet what it will end up being?

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