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Teacher evaluations and teacher pressure

January 17, 2012

Since the beginning of the 2011 school year many cheating scandals have come to light across many public school districts in the USA. In the hotbed of that scandal, Georgia, many educators and their defenders pointed to the unrealistic expectations of standardized tests and their potential implications for teachers.

In what may be a response to these concerns, Georgia districts participating in Race to the Top will pilot a new teacher evaluation program, which will gauge teachers partly on student improvement on state mandated tests as well as attendance, classroom observations, and student surveys.  However, “some critics say it’s difficult to track down which teachers are responsible for a student’s academic progress because many students get tutoring or extra help from a variety of teachers.

The changing focus of teacher evaluations, and the stakes attached, have not gone unchallenged. Groups such as the NEA and AFT (The American Federation of Teachers) argue that the delimiting factors that affect student performance such as environment, school biases, inadequate accommodations for students of special populations and for many other reasons that basing employment of teachers and principals on student academic performance is unsatisfactory.

Education Next published a review of Cincinnati’s Teacher Evaluation System, in development as of the Summer of 2011, which uses some extended metrics, including so-called “value-added” measures.  They noted that the system seemed to have some success at predicting improved student outcomes while working with highly-rated teachers.

Leaders working with new evaluation systems should be aware of the issues surrounding judging teachers based on student performance. The metrics used in some systems attempt to balance test scores with other characteristics such as teaching practice and behaviors, or input from students, parents, or colleagues.

Key Questions:

  • What are the practices and behaviors incentivized by the evaluation system, and are those things that truly impact student performance?
  • Would an excellent teacher, in the eyes of the leader, fare well in the evaluation system?
  • Would the system help the leader identify a poor or struggling teacher, and provide the information necessary to help that teacher improve, or otherwise assist the leader in making personnel decisions?
  • How much flexibility is afforded the school leader in the system?
  • Will teachers feel pressured to comply with the letter of the evaluation system, or is there sufficient buy-in such that they understand the spirit of the system?
3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 24, 2012 8:56 pm

    Test scores must be balanced with other instructional behaviors. For example, I have seen classrooms that had most of the students with multiple information processing difficulties, making teaching a challenge, let alone obtaining higher academic achievement test scores.

    My own published research shows that with some classroom teaching, even with specifically applied treatments, the scores did not improve immediately, but over the process of subsequent years. (I have five published 1-3 year longitudinal reports)

    This scenario requires differentiated teaching with creative applications that activate the various senses. Parental homework practice support is also important.

    • January 24, 2012 10:21 pm

      Jan – can you point us to some of your published research? Evidence that interventions do not always work immediately, or in the timeline that school leaders may expect, can be powerful for designing and implementing effective and just evaluation systems.

      • January 25, 2012 8:28 pm

        My published work, and cited on ERIC ClearingHouse is on my website: — the article I am referencing is “Brain-Based Accelerated Learning Longitudinal Study Reveals
        Subsequent High Academic Achievement Gain for
        Low Achieving, Low Cognitive Skill Fourth Grade Students.” – It shows gains in subsequent years when the students were reconfigured in their original treatment groups and made gains over the control groups. Pubs by “The Journal of Accelerated Learning and Teaching” Fall 2000.

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