The evaluation reforms have been far from perfect. In my research I found that experts struggled to craft dependable new measurement models on tight timelines, especially in building student achievement into the new ratings—resulting in non-sensical situations like gym teachers being evaluated by fourth-grade reading scores. High percentages of teachers have continued to get top ratings in school districts that rely too heavily on under-trained principals who don’t want to create waves in their schools. Many school districts have struggled with the price tag of additional teacher evaluations, as a new report on teacher evaluation from the think tank New America notes. Evaluations aren’t producing enough improvement opportunities for teachers in many places. And there’s no doubt that former Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s decision to have states stress student test scores in new teacher evaluation systems—while also having them introduce new, more demanding tests linked to the important-but-controversial Common Core State Standards—made an already challenging task vastly more difficult and handed teacher unions an easy way to attack the Obama reforms.
But it’s clear from the many new evaluation initiatives launched in recent years that well-designed evaluation systems with a mix of measures, multiple evaluators, and a strong focus on teacher improvement can strengthen instruction, make teaching more attractive work, and raise student achievement.