New Teacher Evaluation Systems are Improving Student Outcomes

An October 2018 report examines how initially controversial teacher evaluation systems have led to improved student outcomes. The report, Making a Difference: Six Places where Teacher Evaluation Systems are Getting Results was published by the National Council on Teacher Quality. The study analyzes several transformational teacher evaluation systems and how each impacted student achievement.

A decade’s worth of reform has helped Tennessee climb from near the bottom, to the middle of the pack on the benchmark national education scores, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). In Dallas, a teacher evaluation system has helped increase student proficiency seven percentage points in all grades and subjects. In Denver, students have consistently outpaced the average Colorado state student in English and math since the inception of their teacher rating system. Innovative teacher evaluation systems in the District of Columbia, Newark, and New Mexico have also benefited both students and teachers.

These effective teacher evaluation systems are tied to incentives and supports and are designed to distinguish between teachers at different performance levels; reward effective teachers and keep them teaching; identify consistently less-effective teachers in order provide supports or end their contracts; create tailored teacher improvement strategies; recruit new effective teachers; and most importantly, increase student growth and achievement.

All of the systems have tied compensation to evaluations, and tailor individual development strategies based on teacher evaluations. The majority of the systems select teachers

for leadership positions based on evaluations, make teacher dismissal decisions based on evaluations, and provide incentives to teachers that work in struggling schools.

Beyond merely including observational measures in teacher ratings, objective student growth and achievement measures now encompass between 20-50% of evaluation components. Including these objective measures has enabled districts to make more informed and strategic decisions on teacher pay, retention, and eligibility for leadership roles. The improved teacher ratings have also led to improved feedback and teacher support.

The evaluations systems have increased the number of teacher rating categories to three or greater, to better distinguish between teacher performance levels. The systems have changed the status quo of only two ratings, satisfactory and unsatisfactory, where nearly all teachers would receive satisfactory ratings. The evaluation systems are tied to both rewards and penalties for various ratings. Teachers may receive bonuses, increased base pay, tenure, and leadership positions for consecutive high evaluation ratings. Teachers may also be put on probationary status, lose tenure, and be laid off for consecutive poor ratings.

The systems primarily focus on student growth measures, rather than achievement results, to avoid a discrepancy between the ratings of teachers at different schools. The initially unpopular systems have now grown to become favored by superintendents and teachers. In Denver, two-thirds of teachers reported that the evaluations improved their teaching.

The results thus far have been promising—the six districts included in the Making A Difference report have seen encouraging improvements. From increases in student achievement to improved retention and pay for high-performing teachers, these well-designed evaluation systems have further aligned the incentives of teachers and student growth.