Supporters of the Every Student Succeeds Act say that the new federal education law frees local leaders to implement innovative policy solutions. But on the important topic of teacher evaluation, a new report from Indiana suggests there is reason to worry about the new emphasis on local control.
Spurred by research on the importance of teacher quality to student success, the Obama administration pressured states to replace mostly superficial traditional teacher evaluation systems with more meaningful measures. But Indiana handed over responsibility for the work to local school districts and that move, say researchers Sandi Cole and Hardy Murphy of Indiana University’s Center on Education and Lifelong Learning, has produced an “erratic” mix of often mediocre reforms.
Since 2012, most Indiana districts have replaced largely non-existent teaching standards with new, research-based “rubrics” for gauging teachers’ classroom performance. But the vast majority of them don’t require evaluators to demonstrate an ability to rate teachers against the standards accurately, less than a quarter require pre- and post-observation conferences with teachers, and many lack effective management systems to track evaluation results, Cole and Murphy report.
The tests that districts have used to gauge teachers’ abilities to increase student achievement vary widely, exacerbating the rating systems’ inconsistency. Few districts use student surveys to add dimensions to their rating systems. And only a few districts actively monitor schools’ evaluation efforts, the researchers say in their analysis.
Indiana’s obligation to the federal government to pursue stronger teacher evaluations expires this month. Cole and Murphy warn the state’s education agency:
…will no longer take an active role in monitoring teacher evaluation plan implementation across the state, which could result in an even greater inconsistency and non-compliance across the state.
The best teacher evaluation systems have clearly articulated teaching standards, multiple methods of measuring teacher performance and standardized training for classroom observers that continues throughout the school year. They include multiple classroom observations by multiple observers (including some from different schools), and clear, actionable feedback for teachers that is accompanied by learning materials and other resources to help teachers improve.
It is far more efficient and effective to build these complex systems at the state level, rather than expecting local school districts to do the work on their own.
As the commentator Matt Miller has written, relying on local school districts to tackle challenges like new teacher evaluation systems would be “as if after Pearl Harbor, FDR had suggested we prepare for war through the uncoordinated efforts of thousands of small factories.”