Blog: The Educated Reporter

Teacher Evaluations: Too Much Change Too Fast?

The National Council on Teacher Quality has a new report out today, tracking teacher evaluation models and reform across the country. (For the full report you can go to the NCTQ web site.)

What is remarkable to me, as evidenced by the report’s findings, is just how fast this train is moving.

Two years ago, annual teacher evaluations were mandatory in just 15 states. Today, that number stands at 24 states and the District of Columbia. Additionally, those evaluations “including not just some attention to student learning, but objective evidence of student learning in the form of student growth and/or value-added data,” according to the NCTQ report.

I was surprised to learn from the report that both Indiana and Tennessee make it clear that a poor evaluation is grounds for dismissal. But neither state has specific policies as to how those low-scoring  teachers will be helped to improve their performance. To not give teachers a chance to improve — or provide any support  for them to do so — doesn’t seem fair.

There was something else in the report that jumped out at me, and that was the section dealing with the question of categorization. How many levels should there be for teacher performance? Is “effective” and “ineffective” enough? Should there also be ratings for “partially effective” or “highly effective”?

The NCTQ report concludes that there isn’t yet a “best” answer to this question. However, the report argues that the wrong answer might well be “three.”

With three categories to choose from, evaluators might be tempted to lump many teachers into the middle — or average — and avoid actually making discriminating judgments on their performance. This is something I hadn’t considered as a possibility, and I think NCTQ makes a strong argument here.

There are some aspects to this debate that still have to play out. How will the push toward evaluations affect the teachers themselves? Will it result in a measurable improvement in student achievement? The answers to these questions might take more time than some policymakers — and the public — are willing to commit.

Here’s another aspect of the debate that I’ve been thinking about this week: Given that numerous studies have validated that the quality of classroom instruction is one of the single biggest factors in student achievement, it makes sense that the push for evaluations started with the teachers. But how long until states require similar evaluations of the principals?

Have a question, comment or concern for the Educated Reporter? Email me at I’m also on Twitter @EWAEmily.