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Teacher Evaluations in an Era of Rapid Change: From “Unsatisfactory" to “Needs Improvement"

Chad Aldeman
Carolyn Chuong
Publication

Over the last four years, states implemented remarkable changes to their teacher evaluation systems. Rather than rating all educators as either “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory,” school districts use new multi-tiered evaluation systems to identify their best (and weakest) teachers. States now require districts to incorporate measurements of student academic growth and rubrics from higher-quality classroom observations into their ratings of teachers and principals. And teachers and principals are starting to receive financial incentives or face potential consequences based on these evaluation results.

But after the initial rush of reforms, progress stalled. The rollout of new evaluation policies slowed down as districts faced implementation challenges and increasing public backlash against teacher evaluation reforms.

In "Teacher Evaluations in an Era of Rapid Change: From 'Unsatisfactory' to 'Needs Improvement'," Chad Aldeman and Carolyn Chuong examine the ongoing effort to revamp teacher evaluations. After collecting and synthesizing data from 17 states and the District of Columbia, they provide five major lessons for policymakers:

  1. Districts are starting to differentiate between poor, fair, and great educator performance, rather than treating all teachers as interchangeable widgets.
  2. Schools are using higher-quality classroom observation rubrics to provide teachers with better, timelier feedback.
  3. Despite state policy changes, many districts still don’t factor student growth into teacher evaluation ratings.
  4. Districts have wide discretion even under “statewide” evaluation systems—meaning that evaluation systems within the same state may look very different from one another.
  5. Districts continue to ignore performance when making decisions about teacher hiring, compensation, tenure, and dismissal.

New evaluation systems are just one part of sweeping changes in American schools. Because the number and extent of these changes are daunting, some states have already started to amend or postpone their teacher evaluation systems. But the authors argue that evaluation reform is an effort worth making. Evidence from Cincinnati, Washington, D.C., and Denver suggests that comprehensive evaluation systems help teachers improve their practice, lead to improved recruitment and retention of high-quality educators, and, ultimately, boost student achievement.

To read about the new evaluation systems and the preliminary lessons for policymakers, download the full report here.