New Education Trust analysis of educator evaluation plans in first-round NCLB waiver agreements underscore potential for both promise, pitfalls in new federal-state partnership in K-12 education
Note: To download individual state summaries, scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the desired attachment(s).
WASHINGTON (March 22, 2012) The Education Trust has eagerly and actively engaged with stakeholders at every stage of the waiver development and approval process for No Child Left Behind. All along, our goal has been to ensure that the opportunities for progress in closing gaps and raising student achievement are maximized and the risks minimized. Now that the first set of waiver requests has been approved, we’ve created brief, independent summaries of each plan with a focus on three critical areas: accountability systems, educator evaluations, and implementation of college- and career-ready standards. Last month, we released our accountability summaries. The summaries were releasing today cover state plans for educator evaluation.
Teachers are, by far, the most important in-school factor in determining whether our students succeed and our nation’s schools improve. The quality of our teacher corps, therefore, powerfully influences the quality of our future workforce, the strength of our economy, and the health of our democracy. Giving teachers and schools the information that they need to improve instruction and strengthen teaching quality is critical to improving student outcomes. Done well, educator evaluation systems can provide this kind of information.
It’s our hope that these summaries will help the public gain a clearer understanding of what the waiver states pledge to do in their proposals, as well as offer a lucid perspective on the promise and potential pitfalls of this new federal-state partnership.
A Deeper Look at Educator Evaluation
There is a wide range of thoughtfulness and boldness in the waiver plans that were approved in this first round. We approached our review of each plan with an eye toward three key questions:
- How thoughtful is the design of the evaluation system?
- How will the state implement the system?
- How does the state intend to use information from the evaluations?
We recognize that, in many states, the approach to educator evaluation outlined in the waiver plan is a work in progress, with many details still to be ironed out. In reviewing each plan, we saw examples of promising practices that could offer guidance to other states that are still working through the thorny details of educator evaluations.
- For example, Tennessee has developed and implemented a data system into which evaluators input real-time data from observations. This way, teachers can get immediate feedback on their instruction and apply it to their classroom practice. District and state leaders, meanwhile, can look at patterns across classrooms – such as the number of teachers struggling with higher order questioning strategies – and mobilize professional development resources to address any issues that warrant attention.
- Florida’s plan is thoughtful and specific about assessing the impact on student growth of teachers who work in non-tested subject areas. This is a challenge for many states. Florida will develop a statewide resource bank that will include formative and interim assessments for all grades and subjects, along with guidelines for how to use the assessments. Districts will be able to choose from these resources and incorporate them into the evaluation of their teachers.
- Colorado outlines plans to collect and track district-level data on educator ratings, such as the number of educators assigned each rating and the retention levels correlated with the ratings. In addition, the state will review student performance outcomes associated with the ratings. This data will help the state monitor the quality of implementation across districts, and will ensure the reliability and validity of the systems.
- While not a required component of the waiver application, a few states paid special attention to ensuring equitable access to effective teachers: Minnesota requires districts to retain only effective teachers at their lowest performing schools, and Florida prohibits districts from disproportionately assigning poor-performing teachers to the lowest performing schools.
We also identified areas that will be critical for states to consider as they continue to develop, refine, and implement their plans. Several of the waiver plans lack sufficient detail on the design of principal evaluation, and some states still need to make critically important decisions about the student achievement measures they will use when evaluating teachers in both tested and non-tested subject areas. Many plans are thin when it comes to implementation details, even though this is critical to the success of these efforts. Finally, some plans are much too vague about how the evaluation results will be used to help teachers and school leaders improve, which is the ultimate aim of all of this work. The plans also omit details about how schools and districts will use the results to improve teacher quality.
The NCLB waivers, and the teacher evaluation systems that will flow from them, mark a new phase in our nations journey toward providing a quality education for all students. Certainly, the development of these plans involved a lot of thought and a lot of work, especially by state education leaders. But the really hard work lies ahead, as state and local education leaders put into action what, for most, is still merely a paper plan. Whether these plans will yield strong evaluation systems that improve experiences and outcomes for teachers and students, or whether they will perpetuate flaws that exist under current systems, remains to be seen.