States backslide on teacher evaluations

States backslide on teacher evaluations

(District of Columbia) Many observers of the nation’s public schools figured the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act would also put an end to the debate over teacher evaluations because the law repealed federal incentives to improve educator review.

But a survey released Wednesday found that only four states–Alaska, Mississippi, North Carolina and Oklahoma–have removed provisions to include student learning as part of teacher evaluation ratings.

While that might sound like good news, the report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, or NCTQ, also found in 28 or 30 states, policies or regulations allow teachers with low student achievement scores to still receive a rating of effective or higher.

“State legislators made a big deal about their changes to teacher evaluations,” said Kate Walsh, president and founder of the teacher quality group. “They claimed new laws ensure that only teachers who proved their ability to raise student achievement would be rated effective or better.

“Unfortunately, state education agencies preserved the status quo by creating giant loopholes in the criteria for how teachers can earn an effective rating,” Walsh said in a statement.

Beginning with President Barack Obama’s first term, the U.S. Department of Education has used a variety of carrots and sticks aimed at getting states to adopt strong evaluation methods that link student academic progress with employment decisions of their teachers.

With the introduction of a federal waiver program in 2012, the Education Department was able to leverage as many as 40 state legislatures into enacting upgrades to their teacher evaluation systems that put significant emphasis on test scores.

ESSA, which was signed into law by Obama in 2015, repealed all of the NCLB waivers as well as all related conditions. Also absent in the new law were new requirements that states base teacher employment decisions on the growth–or lack of growth–in student performance.

Although there were fears that ESSA would result in states retreating from the higher evaluation standards, in 2017 there are still 40 states that have kept teacher-test score link.

What the NCTQ researchers found, however, is that ESSA instead empowered state bureaucrats to reduce the significance of test scores in teacher evaluations using policy or regulation.

“While most states have not formally retreated, they do not actually need to do so because, as this report explains, guidance and regulation from state educational agencies has minimized, indeed marginalized, the importance of student learning in their teachers’ evaluation ratings,” the NCTQ concluded.

In fact, in 18 states, state educational agency regulations or guidance explicitly permit teachers to an “effective” rating even after earning a less-than-effective score on the student learning portion of their evaluations. 

“Because these states' rules and models allow several ways for  teachers to accumulate the requisite score to be rated effective, these regulations meet the letter of the law while still allowing teachers with  low ratings on student growth  measures to be rated effective or higher,” the report said.

Further, 10 states do not specifically address whether a teacher who has not met student growth goals may be rated as effective or higher. These states neither specifically allow nor specifically disallow such a scenario, but by failing to provide guidance to prevent such an occurrence, they enable it to exist.

Meanwhile, just two of the state surveyed states–Indiana and Kentucky–make it impossible for a teacher who has not been found effective at increasing student learning to receive a summative rating of effective.

The net impact of ESSA and state policy, according to the research, is that the percentage of teachers being rated as effective or higher hasn’t really changed since 2009 when the NCTQ published a finding that virtually all teachers nationally were being summarily judged as capable.

“Despite state efforts, nearly all teachers continue to earn ratings of effective or higher, despite student test scores and research which indicates that these ratings are unlikely to accurately reflect teachers’ performance,” said Elizabeth Ross, Managing Director of State Policy at NCTQ in a statement.

“Retaining the status quo prevents schools, districts, and states from reliably basing key personnel decisions on evaluation ratings,” said Ross. “States should not, as a matter of policy, strive to give more teachers poor ratings; however, if all teachers are labeled effective, then schools, districts, and states cannot use evaluation results to intervene to support teachers who would benefit from more help.” more