Now that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has been passed and the emphasis on teacher assessments through standardized test scores has been limited, what is an effective way to assess teachers and ensure accountability?


Kimberly O'Malley, Senior Vice President, Pearson's Research & Innovation Network

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I spoke with a brilliant colleague about this question, Dr. Katherine McKnight, Principal Director of Research of the Center for Educator Learning & Effectiveness at Pearson, and she had the following thoughts:

I think there are two questions there: (1) is how to effectively assess teachers; and (2) is how to ensure accountability.

(1), as Wiliam (2007) as well as other researchers have noted, the ability to consistently assess student learning progress and adjust instruction accordingly is the single most important aspect of teaching practice to enhance student learning. Therefore, working with teachers to ensure that they understand how to use a wide variety of methods for monitoring student learning and progress is key. These can include observing students working together; verbal or written questions about content they are learning and need to master; performance on learning tasks (in-class or as homework), including smaller or larger projects; end of lesson unit quizzes; etc.

(2) RE: accountability, policy-makers and states are moving away from the use of student test scores on cumulative, annual achievement tests for a variety of well-documented reasons (for example, see the American Statistical Association's and the American Education Research Association's statements about the problematic use of value-added measures and student growth models as valid measures of teacher effectiveness). In fact, focusing on teacher evaluations to improve practice (i.e. for educative purposes) is gaining strength in policy circles. A number of studies in the psychology field about performance evaluations and their link to worker's intrinsic motivation, many of which are discussed in Daniel Pink's popular book "Drive," suggest that the current approach of teacher evaluations for accountability purposes is not effective for improving practice, which ostensibly was the purpose.

James Kadamus, National education consultant for K-12 and higher education

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You are correct that ESSA now prohibits the federal government from dictating to states how they should evaluate teachers. That said, many states already have laws on the books requiring the use of student performance measure including standardized tests to evaluate teachers. It is unlikely that these laws will all be repealed.

I am a proponent of districts creating multiple measure to evaluate student performance and teacher performance. These can include state tests where applicable, teacher observation by principals and evaluation of lessons and assignments teachers use. One promising development is the use of Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) as part of the process for both student and teacher evaluation. Districts like Denver and Charlotte have been using SLOs in varying forms for a number of years and there is positive research on the results. Some states are now implementing SLOs across their districts. SLOs have also proven effective in subjects where there is no standardized testing like music or art.

Here is a link to an article in the Huffington Post that talks about teacher evaluation and SLOs in the context of ESSA:

Dylan Ferniany, Ed.D. in Leadership, Policy, and Organizations

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Alabama currently has legislation in the pipeline proposing teacher evaluation (RAISE Act) based on test scores, performance pay scale, and raising tenure. This brings into question a number of issues based on holding teachers accountable but respecting professional autonomy. A main issue that is rarely addressed in legislation is that teachers need more formative feedback. Test scores should be used to teach teachers which areas their students need to grow. Administrators should spend time throughout the year helping teachers develop their craft based on observations, formative assessments, and overall professional behavior of the teacher. Teachers who are resistant to feedback, who consistently have students who are not proficient in multiple areas, who are unprofessional, those teachers should have the same consequences as anyone in any profession who does not do their job. There are a number of problems with the use of test scores in evaluation. For one, the test is always changing. In the past 10 years, many states have used 2-3 different state mandated tests. So the baseline is consistently being moved around. When teachers' performance is tied too much to tests, it encourages teaching to the test and potentially cheating. I believe the best way to hold teachers accountable is to do just that--hold them accountable. For all aspects of teaching, not just how they perform each year on tests. But you can't hold them accountable without providing the proper support or resources. While we ask more and more of teachers we should stop to consider what we are asking of them and if they have what they need to be an effective instructor.

Amy McElroy, Former Attorney, Writer, Editor, parent of a junior high and high school student

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Evaluating teachers requires more hands-on work from the administration than simply test scores once a year. Principals, assistant principals, and/or curriculum coordinators should be visible in the classroom more than once per semester, evaluating teachers in action. With new video technology, teachers could easily be videotaped even more frequently on portable cameras and evaluated at a later time. Lesson plans, quizzes, and tests should be evaluated by the administration on a regular basis, too. Also, don't underestimate the power of student and parent surveys, to substantiate other evidence or point to a problem that may need more attention or investigation.

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