An Ocean of Unknowns

Risks and Opportunities in Using Student Achievement Data to Evaluate PreK-3rd Grade Teachers
Policy Paper
May 15, 2013

What is the best way to use data to measure teacher impact on student learning? States and school districts are attempting to navigate these uncharted waters. As of 2012, 20 states and DC require evidence of student learning to play a role in evaluating teacher performance. As a result, better information on student learning is in high demand, and no grade level is immune. Historically, most states have required standardized testing only in grades three through eight. But now those 21 states, with likely more to follow, must figure out comparable ways to measure student learning in the “untested grades,” as well, including pre-K, kindergarten, and grades one and two. And even with testing in grade three, a lack of baseline data has implications for those teachers too.

Determining growth measures for these grades is among the most complex pieces of teacher evaluation reform. In this early stage of life, children’s developmental growth—their acquisition of physical, cognitive, and social-emotional skills; their base of general knowledge; their strength of persistence and motivation; and their language and literacy ability—is directly linked to their academic growth. So measures of student learning should account for how young children actually learn and measure more than just reading and mathematics if we are to obtain an accurate picture of a teacher’s impact on her young students’ learning.

This paper provides a snapshot of how student achievement data are being used in teacher evaluation systems today and illuminates the issues causing states and school districts the most struggles. Most states are using one of or some combination of three approaches: student learning objectives, shared assessments, and shared attribution. The Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation examines these approaches in five states (Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Rhode Island, and Tennessee) and three school districts (Austin, Texas; Hillsborough County, Florida; and Washington, DC). Each of the approaches carries its own risks and opportunities.

Read the full report here.