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Report: Test-Based Teacher Evaluations Have Gained 'Strong Foothold' in States

Guest post by Alyson Klein, cross-posted from Politics K-12.

One big question as the Obama administration draws to a close: How many states will keep requiring teacher evaluations based at least in part on student outcomes after the president leaves office?

The answer may be almost all of them, if you consider a report by the National Council of Teacher Quality, an advocacy organization that likes the idea of more rigorous evaluations.

There have been a lot of changes to teacher evaluations since 2009, when the Obama administration encouraged evaluations through test scores in its Race to the Top competition. And U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and company later required them for states seeking waivers from the mandates of the much-maligned No Child Left Behind Act.

Those waivers may well go away soon, either because Congress reauthorizes ESEA, or because a new president does away with them. And most folks expect that federal strings requiring teacher evaluation through test scores will be one of the first things to go.

But NCTQ report—a "state of the states" update of evaluation policies—makes the case that evaluations through test scores are already part of the picture in most states. In fact, just five states don't have any sort of policy at all calling for growth on test scores to be part of the mix on evaluations. (None of those states—California, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, and Vermont—has a waiver.)

What's more, since 2013, just three states—South Carolina, Utah, and Wisconsin—have stopped using student test scores as a significant factor in evaluations.

At the same time, it's unclear just much these new evaluations have actually mattered on a practical level. One "troubling pattern," according to NCTQ? Even under the new systems, most teachers are still rated as "highly effective" or "effective." (Teachers: What do you think? Do you agree that's a troubling pattern?)

NCTQ also acknowledges that implementation of the revamped evaluation systems has been complicated by an "unfortunate collision in timing" with the states' adoption of the Common Core State Standards and new testing regimes—with the significant pushback those initiatives have been met with often encompassing performance-based evaluations as well.  

Meanwhile, the report notes that a handful of states—including Kansas and New Hampshire—have teacher-evaluation policies on the books, but they seem to have been created just to help those states get and keep their waivers. NCTQ doesn't think the states have been knocking themselves out to implement them.

And at least three states, Alabama, Texas, and New Hampshire again, told the federal Education Department that they use state test scores in teacher evaluations, but those policies only exist in their waivers. NCTQ was particularly tough on the Granite State, saying it's among the states that have "kick[ed] the can down the road" using tactics like "perennial evaluation task forces." Check out this chart:

NCTQ chart on waivers.PNG(Wonky question: Do those findings bolster Washington state's case for getting its NCLB waiver back? The Evergreen State lost its flexibility last year because it doesn't require state test scores to be part of the evaluation picture. But apparently, states that still have their flexibility in hand are in a similar boat. More here.)

There's lots more in the report, on student surveys, principal evaluations, and more. Check it all out here.

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