The most accurate assessments of a teacher's performance take several measures into account — not just test scores or principal evaluations alone, according to a report by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
After three years of research on measuring teacher performance, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced Tuesday that it takes multiple measures to most accurately judge educators.
The Seattle foundation concluded in its final report on its Measures of Effective Teaching research that test scores or principal evaluations are not enough on their own. The findings mirror what teachers unions have been saying.
The federal government has been pushing states through incentive grants and waivers to update their teacher-evaluation systems. At the same time, the Gates Foundation was studying these issues, saying it wanted to add to the discussion. Most states and big city districts have adopted some elements of the recommendations.
Foundation officials say the more reliable systems include a balanced mix of evaluation methods: student test scores, lesson observation and student surveys.
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“If you do it right, you can generate measures that will help identify teachers that are having a bigger impact. That’s a really big deal,” said lead investigator Thomas Kane, professor of education and economics at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
The foundation studied 3,000 teachers across the country. The research included classroom videos of 13,000 lessons; interviews with students and administrators; test scores; and experiments to test theories.
Classrooms were studied in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the Dallas Independent School District, Denver Public Schools, Hillsboro County Public Schools in Tampa and St. Petersburg, Fla., Memphis City Schools, the New York City Department of Education and Pittsburgh Public Schools.
One conclusion of the report is that having a second person, other than the principal, evaluate a teacher greatly enhances reliability.
The researchers also established a baseline for how much influence test scores should have on teacher evaluations, saying tests generally should not represent more than half the total teacher-evaluation score.
Vicki Phillips, director of the foundation’s K-12 education program, said the focus of teacher-evaluation systems should be on giving feedback to help teachers improve.
Several districts involved in the research acknowledged that student surveys were the most controversial part of the process, and some, like Hillsboro County Public Schools in Florida, have opted to leave them out of the mix when scoring teachers.
Jean Clements, president of the Hillsboro Classroom Teachers Association, said her district decided the results of student surveys, which ask questions like “do you feel challenged to do your best work,” may not be trusted by teachers.
The researchers found, however, that student surveys help teachers improve their practice because those results evoke the most emotions.
Test scores and principal evaluations don’t bring tears to many teachers’ eyes, Kane said. “Getting these student surveys back … hits you where your heart is.”