Taking the Teacher Evaluation Debate "Beyond Ratings"

Blog Post
Feb. 29, 2016

Since the recent Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) removed all federal incentives around teacher evaluation, many have questioned whether states would rollback or revisit their current systems. In the 2016 state legislative sessions to date, several legislatures have in fact proposed system changes centered around the use of student growth data. This is somewhat unsurprising when we consider the main debate over teacher evaluations for the past decade: whether to include student outcomes.

In a new report, entitled A New Normal, Third Way identifies this “old fight” around teacher evaluations as one of several examples of our country’s need to push the K-12 education reform conversation forward. Key to the argument is the idea that since state education agencies have sunk time and resources into implementing stronger evaluation systems that include student achievement, these agencies will not hastily abandon their work. Sandi Jacobs, Senior Vice President of State and District Policy at the National Council on Teacher Quality, an organization that has been tracking state teacher evaluation policies for years, agrees: “While much work remains on implementation, the policy landscape around teacher evaluation is completely transformed in this country, and that’s not going to be easy to undo.” But even this statement comes from a conversation focused on whether student achievement data will continue to be included in evaluation systems under ESSA.

Third Way’s report encourages policymakers to end this outdated fight and adopt a “new normal” for teacher evaluation debates moving forward. Rather than question the inclusion of student achievement, they suggest policymakers should focus instead on ensuring evaluation system measures—including student achievement—are fair, inclusive, and provide teachers with some agency in the process. Although only briefly mentioned, Third Way also pushes policymakers to use teacher evaluation data to inform teachers’ professional development and career advancement opportunities—critical to ensuring evaluations are both fair and meaningful.

How do most states currently approach this latter issue, and where are they headed? On March 7, New America will host an event in conjunction with the release of a new report that digs deeper into this question. The panel discussion will center on states’ efforts to help connect evaluation and professional development to date, as well as predictions for changes that may come in the wake of ESSA. Along with representatives from two state education agencies—Tennessee and Delaware—the panel will include Dawn Krusemark of the American Federation of Teachers and Daniel Weisberg of TNTP, whose organization recently released a report questioning how to help teachers develop, with EdWeek’s Stephen Sawchuck moderating.

As this is the first time federal law explicitly allows states to shift their evaluation practices beyond ratings toward teacher improvement, it will be interesting to watch how states respond. Will the “old debates” continue with pressure on state policymakers to walk back from current evaluation efforts? Or will a “new normal” prevail, with states taking this opportunity to reframe evaluation as a tool for teacher support, in addition to accountability? RSVP for New America's March 7 event or follow it on Twitter using #BeyondRatings to be part of the discussion.