What Can Teacher Evaluations Tell Us about Performance? Not Much, Study Findings Say

Teacher evaluations are often used as a way to identify poor performing teachers or areas for improvement. Yet a new study shows that teacher evaluation ratings may not reflect teachers’ true performance. The Washington Post reports that a study from February 2016 shows that despite 19 states having passed teacher evaluation reform measures, the median proportion of teachers deemed below proficient has ticked up from less than 1 percent in a 2009 TNTP study to less than 3 percent.

Researchers from Brown University and Vanderbilt University for the 2016 study surveyed and interviewed 100 principals in an urban district that adopted new evaluations in 2012-2013. The researchers found that on average in the first year, principals estimated that about 28 percent of teachers in their buildings were performing below proficient, but they also predicted that they would assign low ratings to just 24 percent, openly acknowledging that they would inflate some teachers’ scores. At the year’s end, however, it turned out that fewer than 7 percent of teachers actually received ratings below proficient, according to The Washington Post article.

What are the reasons for the discrepancy? Some principals told researchers they felt uncomfortable delivering bad news to teachers. Other principals told the researchers they didn’t have time to work through the documentation and support necessary to give teachers poor ratings. Still others said they were reluctant to give poor reviews to teachers who had potential or were working hard to improve, or they didn’t feel they could find a stronger replacement for the weak teacher in the classroom. Principals also said it was easier to encourage a poor teacher to find a job elsewhere than to go through the paperwork associated with a poor review.

Despite widespread changes to the teacher evaluation metrics across the country, there is evidence that adopting a one-size-fits all approach in teacher evaluations has been ineffective. There are still gaps in the process that prevent fair and objective evaluations across the board. ACS understands the importance of having high-quality teachers in all classrooms settings and helps clients like The Ohio 8 Coalition advocate for evaluation reforms that preserve local control and help districts do what is best for their schools, teachers and students.

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