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Study: States' Teacher-Evaluation Policies Are A-Changin'

By guest blogger Liana Heitin

The National Council on Teacher Quality released a study today examining the "changing landscape" of teacher-evaluation policies—which have proliferated in the last two years—across the states.

The report details some of the trends I addressed in a state roundup published in July. Those trends include a dramatic increase in the number of states tying teacher evaluations to student achievement and indications that there's continued legislative interest in making evaluations more rigorous, despite the fact that Race to the Top incentives aren't currently on the table.

In a webinar for education reporters, Sandi Jacobs, vice president of Washington-based NCTQ, explained that 24 states and the District of Columbia now require annual evaluations for all teachers, while in 2009, only 15 states had that requirement.

Jacobs also said that 23 states and D.C. now require teacher evaluations to include objective evidence of student learning. Of those, 17 states and D.C. require achievement be included in a "significant" way, and 13 states require the measures to be the "preponderant" criterion (that is, no other factor can count more than student-achievement measures). Just two years ago, only four states required student-achievement measures be the preponderant criterion in teacher evaluations.

That's a lot of action for just two years, Jacobs said. "Between 2007 and 2009, we didn't really see the needle moving at all" on these policies.

However, Jacobs noted that between states, there's "a great deal of variation in design" for these teacher-evaluation systems. For instance, Delaware and Louisiana have a single statewide system, while Arizona, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, and Ohio allow districts to create their own systems. Some states offer a system and allow districts to opt-in, and others let districts design the systems but the state must approve them.

Jacobs listed what the NCTQ considers the key "early lessons" for states embarking on these sorts of policy changes. Among other things, she said:

• "Teacher-effectiveness measures don't have to be perfect to be useful. Some people are concerned that not every 'I' is dotted and they're rolling out these systems. But keep in mind how unsatisfactory the [previous] systems have been." She added that an evaluation system "doesn't have to grind to a halt to be fine-tuned." (See my recent story on Tennessee's teacher-evaluation system, which is causing an uproar among teachers because it is far from fine-tuned.)

• States are struggling with finding measures of student-growth for nontested grades and subjects.

• Teachers need feedback on their evaluations.

• Whenever possible, states and districts should use third-party evaluators.

• Teachers "are nervous; they're hearing a lot of things that are scaring them. So it's important for states to think about that communication strategy." (Again, see the Tennessee story.)

• Evaluations should focus on everyone—not just low-performers.

Jacobs pointed to D.C.'s IMPACT evaluation system as a "strong example" of where such systems should be headed.

Jane Hannaway, vice president of the American Institutes of Research and director of the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, followed up Jacobs' comments with praise for both the NCTQ report and the trajectory of state policies.

"I think the change that has happened in the last two years in this country is remarkable," she said. The increase in political interest around teacher evaluation represents "a real awakening."

It's important to note that AIR does have some vested interest in such systems—the group has been awarded contracts to develop student-growth measures for the evaluation systems in New York and Florida.

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