Sandi Jacobs is Vice President of the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). In January, NCTQ released its fifth annual State Teacher Policy Yearbook, a 52-volume report on the state laws, regulations and policies that shape teacher effectiveness. To download a copy of Connecticut’s report or a national overview report, go to: http://www.nctq.org/stpy11/reports.jsp
Over the last few years, the National Council on Teacher Quality’s (NCTQ) State Teacher Policy Yearbook has chronicled a sea change in teacher evaluation policy. Across the states we’ve seen real movement toward rethinking how to evaluate teacher performance, including by explicitly tying assessments of teacher effectiveness to student results. If the State Board in Connecticut adopts the recommendations of the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) this month, the state will become the eighteenth state in the nation to include student achievement as a significant criterion in teacher evaluations (in 12 of those states, student achievement is required to be the most significant factor in assessments of teacher performance).
Even as the PEAC recommendations are a step in the right direction, the key will be what steps Connecticut takes to ensure that these evaluation guidelines translate into more effective teachers in classrooms across the state.
When it comes to student achievement, good, clear, objective measures of student growth and value-added are critical to assessing a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom, regardless of how any one of multiple measures of student performance might be weighted in the state’s evaluation system. Likewise, to be meaningful, the portion of Connecticut’s teacher evaluations based on teacher performance and professional practice (presumably measured by classroom observations) needs to focus on measures consistent with the expectations for effective teachers – that is, focused not on peripheral issues but squarely on the quality of classroom instruction, as measured by things like student time on task, student grasp or mastery of lesson objectives and efficient use of class time.
However Connecticut decides to divvy up the percentages of what will count for what in the state’s evaluation system, the bottom line is the same. A teacher should not be able to receive a satisfactory evaluation rating if objective measures indicate that he or she is ineffective in the classroom. Period.
In addition, evaluations need to be tied to action. It goes without saying that evaluations themselves aren’t what make teachers effective. It will be what Connecticut does with teacher evaluation results that will ultimately matter to the quality of the profession. Among the positives, Connecticut is already one of just 10 states that requires teachers to receive feedback from their evaluations and specifies that professional development activities for teachers must be directly informed by student performance and be linked to teacher evaluation goals. The state also requires that teachers who receive unsatisfactory evaluations be put on improvement plans.
Tying evaluation results to efforts to improve classroom practice and addressing the needs of struggling teachers is critical. But those efforts aren’t enough.
Connecticut remains one of 39 states that awards tenure to teachers virtually automatically, with no attention to classroom effectiveness. Connecticut also is one of 38 states that fails to articulate that ineffectiveness is grounds for teacher dismissal and does not specify that eligibility for dismissal is a consequence of unsatisfactory evaluations.
There is cause for cautious optimism about new developments in Connecticut. Yet, it remains to be seen whether the effort to improve teacher evaluations in the state comes with a commitment to do what it takes to use these new performance assessments to ensure that all students have access to effective teachers.
The ideas expressed in this blog post reflect the views of the writer and are not necessarily those of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER). For information about CCER’s stance on these issues, see our Report outlining 65+ recommendations for how Connecticut can close its achievement gap while raising academic outcomes for all students.