New summary reports by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) show that the state’s teacher appraisal system does a poor job of distinguishing effective from ineffective teachers. Why would TEA release such a report? Because the federal government believes that teacher evaluation is a cornerstone to ensuring a quality teacher in every classroom and expects this data to shine a bright light on the problem of inflated teacher evaluations. A summary of teacher appraisal ratings must be reported by each state as a condition of federal funding.
There is little to argue here. Nearly all teachers get good ratings on the Texas Teacher Professional Development Appraisal System (PDAS). The TEA report shows that only 4 percent of Texas teachers are rated below “proficient” in their performance. And, according to the PDAS appraisal guide, a rating of proficient is a high standard indeed:
“…the ‘proficient’ level is a high standard of performance. Teaching behaviors that result in considerable impact on student learning and which are demonstrated a high percentage of the time and with a high percentage of students (80-89%) is ‘proficient.’ Words associated with ‘proficient’ teaching behaviors or the rating of ‘proficient’ are: skillful, experienced, masterful, well-advanced, and knowledgeable.”
Although 96 percent of teachers are evaluated as proficient, the 2010 Annual Report on Texas Public Schools shows that only 77 percent of students met passing standards on state achievement tests. When assessment of student and teacher performance are so obviously disconnected, it is clear that our teacher evaluation system is broken.
National leaders are not the only ones concerned about teacher evaluation. The Texas Senate Education Committee was charged during the last interim to study this issue. At a hearing held on July 20, 2010, the experts’ testimony was unanimous: Teacher evaluation is vitally important to developing teacher quality, and PDAS will not get us there. Two bills to reform teacher evaluation were filed by the chairs of the Senate and House Education committees this session (SB 4 and HB 1587). Neither bill passed because the budget deficit quickly reordered priorities.
As a result, those who do not embrace the challenge of reinventing teacher evaluation can breathe a sigh of relief—for now; but we cannot ignore the problem forever. PDAS’ shortcomings have to be addressed.
PDAS began in 1997-98 in response to 1995 legislation (SB 1) calling for a new teacher appraisal system that included a ‘link’ to student performance. It is a very weak link because student performance ultimately has no influence on a teacher’s summative performance rating.
PDAS is an observation instrument that describes a rubric of teacher proficiencies based on effective teaching research. Proficiencies are described in eight domains that include 51 criteria. Evaluators conduct one or more classroom observations during the year totaling at least 45 minutes, rate their observations on a form, provide a written summary to the teacher within 10 working days, and conduct a pre- or post-observation conference if the teacher wants one.
At the end of the year, the principal prepares a summative annual report and conducts a final conference with the teacher. The overall campus performance rating plays a minor part, but a teacher’s effect on student growth does not.
Why is it so hard for a principal to rate a teacher below proficient? PDAS involves a lot of rules and time lines in the name of transparency and fairness. Texas school administrators probably spend about a million hours a year collectively implementing PDAS.
Plus, the documentation is daunting. Any information that will be used to support an appraisal rating must be documented and shared with the teacher within 10 working days. Any time a teacher is rated as “unsatisfactory” in one of the eight domains or “below expectations” in two of the eight domains, the principal has to complete an Intervention Plan for Teacher in Need of Assistance, commonly referred to as a TINA.
In the TINA plan, the principal must prescribe professional improvement activities and dates for completion, the evidence that will be used to determine completion, directives for changes in teacher behavior and time lines, and the evidence that will be used to determine if teacher behavior has changed. It’s quite a task for principals, who spend much of their day being pulled in many directions, most unplanned. Teachers, of course, have the right to rebut, complain, request a different appraiser, or file a grievance if they disagree with their principal’s assessment. Is it really any wonder that our teachers, like the children of Lake Wobegon, are all above average?
The good news is that major teacher quality research and development investments are beginning to pay off. We have more time to try alternatives before legislative leaders return to the issue.
The federal Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grants, for example, have stepped up efforts to identify effective teachers. TIF requires a teacher evaluation system that is rigorous, transparent, and fair; that differentiates teacher effectiveness; and takes into account student growth. As a result, several Texas districts will pilot new teacher evaluations next year.
Austin ISD, a TIF grant recipient, is building a new evaluation system for teachers and principals. The teacher system includes a student growth component weighted at 40 percent of the overall result, observations of instructional practice and classroom climate conducted by colleagues and administrators worth 50 percent, and an administrator evaluation on professional expectations worth 10 percent. Austin ISD plans to pilot the new system at priority campuses in 2011-12.
The Houston ISD Board recently gave final approval to a new teacher appraisal system that will also be based on a weighted mix of student performance, instructional practice, and professional expectations. The district is going “all in” next year with no pilot phase, evaluating all 12,000 district teachers using the new system. Roughly half of a teacher’s overall rating will be based on student performance, with no more than a quarter based on value-added test scores. The other half of the rating will be based on the teacher’s ability to engage students, use of instructional time, effective lesson design, and collaboration with colleagues. Teacher observations and performance feedback will also be stepped up under the new system.
Dallas ISD is participating in a two-year program that will blend test-driven analysis with classroom assessments to identify what effective teachers do on a consistent basis. The Measures of Effective Teaching Project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, provided funding for 22 Dallas middle schools to study the issue. The Gates Foundation will release its final report on effective teaching research this winter.
The Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) has a tried and true model for teacher appraisal that has been road-tested in approximately 230 schools for 10 years. The program has been implemented in about 50 schools in Texas since 2005—with great results. TAP is a comprehensive school reform model that integrates a structured evaluation process with ongoing observations and professional development using mentor and master teachers. TAP schools are largely high-need schools.
In TAP schools, teacher evaluations yield a more realistic distribution of teacher performance ratings and there is a definite impact on student learning. On a 5-point rating scale, most teachers rate a 3.5, and all scores are more widely distributed. All Texas TAP schools met or exceeded student growth expectations in a 2009 study, most by two standard deviations.
The TAP evaluation model depends on two types of measures. One consists of multiple classroom observations by the school’s principal and master and mentor teachers during the year. Observation scores are combined into a summative Skills, Knowledge, and Responsibilities (SKR) score for each teacher.
The second measure is the teacher’s average value added to student achievement on standardized tests from one year to the next. Higher SKR scores are positively correlated with higher value-added scores for students, which validates that the two pieces are measuring the same thing—effective teaching.
Other states and school districts are leading the way or following suit. Cincinnati Public Schools has an evaluation system in which teachers participate in a comprehensive evaluation during their first and fourth years of teaching, after which they are evaluated every five years. Teachers are observed four times by teacher evaluators and once by a school administrator. Teacher evaluators are required to undergo extensive training in collecting and scoring evidence to ensure a high degree of reliability.
States including Tennessee, Rhode Island, Colorado, Delaware, New York, and Ohio are all in various stages of developing or implementing new models or new mandates for teacher evaluation. Colorado school districts have overwhelmed the state department of education with interest in participating in that state’s pilot program to evaluate new teachers and principals. The state originally budgeted for six to eight districts to participate and wound up with 41 applicants by the June deadline.
For districts just beginning to think about new teacher evaluation systems, there is more help than ever. The National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality is a good place to start. The Center has just published a new document, A Practical Guide to Designing Comprehensive Teacher Evaluation Systems, that walks step-by-step through the planning process and considerations involved to develop and implement a comprehensive teacher evaluation system.
Other resources, all downloadable from the center’s Web site , include policy briefs on issues related to teacher evaluation and a Guide to Teacher Evaluation Products.
Appraisal scholars agree that identifying effective and ineffective teachers will require multiple measures, including observations of instructional practice in the classroom, well-trained evaluators, and reliable and objective student learning measures. And by the time the Legislature returns, we will have learned a lot more. Even the major teacher organizations, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, have adopted policies in support of better evaluation systems.
The need to improve teacher evaluation is growing more urgent and it will not go away. It is a necessary tool for improving teacher effectiveness and student growth.