New brief offers suggestions for teacher evaluation design

The paper is written by Dr. William Mathis, managing director of the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education.

Mathis summarizes research findings on the effects of teacher evaluation systems, including unintended as well as intended consequences. At a time when teacher evaluation controversies in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and other school districts have erupted—particularly over the issue of evaluations based in part on the growth of students’ test scores—understanding the evidence about these issues has taken on new urgency.

Mathis counsels that lawmakers should be wary of approaches based in large part on test scores, because of three problems:

  1. The measurement error is large—which results in many teachers being incorrectly labeled as effective or ineffective;
  2. Given that only certain grade levels and subject areas are tested, relevant test scores are not available for most teachers; and
  3. The incentives created by the high-stakes use of test scores drive undesirable teaching practices such as curriculum narrowing and teaching to the test.

Instead, he advocates systems like peer assistance and review (PAR) that de-emphasize test scores. Such systems are more labor intensive but that have “far greater potential to enrich instruction and improve education.” He also advocates balancing summative, high-stakes assessment systems “with formative approaches that identify strengths and weaknesses of teachers and directly focus on developing and improving their teaching.”

In any case, “Given the extensive range of activities, skills, and knowledge involved in teachers’ daily work, the system’s goals must be clear, explicit and reflect practitioner involvement,” Mathis says.

"It's good to see another validation of what we have said all along," said Sharon Palmer, president of AFT Connecticut. "The evaluation system we helped develop this year places significant emphasis on professional development and peer assistance and review."

This two-page brief is part of Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking, a multipart brief that takes up a number of important policy issues and identifies policies supported by research. Each section focuses on a different issue, and its recommendations to policymakers are based on the latest scholarship.

The brief is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

Find William Mathis’s brief on the NEPC website at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/options-teacher-evaluations

The mission of the National Education Policy Center is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence.  For more information on the NEPC, please visit http://nepc.colorado.edu/.