Evaluation matters: How a new study changes how we think about teaching

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Due to the focused work of state leaders and the Obama Administration, teachers are increasingly being held accountable for their work in new ways, and communities around the country are working through how to collect better information on teachers and use it to improve teaching. In schools and districts in almost every state, education leaders are designing and implementing new or enhanced systems to evaluate teachers. The hope is that this new and more comprehensive array of information will inform how education leaders hire teachers, and how they prepare and support teachers to be more effective. Currently, many evaluation systems capture only a limited amount of information about teaching. This must change—and Congress can play an important role when it reconsiders ESEA.
 
Over the last several years, the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Project has explored the work of over 3,000 teachers who agreed to have their teaching measured in multiple ways.  Teachers’ lessons were videotaped, and their lessons were rated by trained evaluators. Their students answered survey questions about their teaching, and they took a series of academic tests.
 
The MET Project released its findings on Tuesday in a series of reports. The documents offer an unprecedented perspective on what information should be collected and what tools should be used to do so. Overall, the MET Project found that multiple measures of teacher evaluation make a difference, as long as they are valid and reliable. However, as the MET findings suggest, evaluation ratings based on test scores alone are not stable enough over time to be used to assign ratings consistently to teachers. Teacher evaluations that also include certain classroom observation tools and student surveys provide more reliable estimates of teachers’ effectiveness than those based only on tests.
 
These findings come at a crucial time, and the MET Project’s findings should be the foundation of next-generation teacher evaluation systems. As the report suggests, schools and districts should collect information about teachers and their teaching using different approaches. Second, the information the schools and districts collect should be of high quality, so that leaders can distinguish teachers meaningfully across various dimensions. Third, schools and districts should invest in helping teachers improve based on this information.
 
There are a wide range of resources that educators and policymakers can look to as they develop and implement better teacher evaluation systems, but the MET Project’s work stands out for its scope. Our organization, the Center for American Progress, and many others have highlighted effective work by states and districts as they work hard to find meaningful combinations of multiple types of information about teaching. But our collective work so far could not match the MET Project’s breadth, and we laud the Gates Foundation for funding this project.
 
Ensuring that our children have access to better teachers will not be easy. Educators and policymakers must invest in improving teaching, and they should collect more meaningful information in order to provide better feedback to teachers. They must also support teachers’ continuous improvement and take action when teachers fail to make satisfactory improvement with these supports.
 
Policymakers should seize this fresh opportunity to improve federal policy and improve the quality of teaching available to all students in the United States. Put more simply, as Congress envisions the next generation of ESEA, it should make sure that teachers are evaluated — and evaluated in a deep and meaningful way — but that those evaluations should not be based on just a test-score.

Brown is the vice president for Education Policy and Robert Hanna is a senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress.