There has been a sea change in teacher evaluation over the past eight years. Inspired in part by President Barack Obama’s policies, schools have instituted teacher evaluation systems that include multiple measures of teacher impact. Model systems are aligned to systems of continuous improvement, helping teachers identify areas of weakness in their practice and linking them with related support. This shift toward more formal systems of evaluation is essential to ensure high-quality teaching and learning. Evaluation systems are not the only lever for improving teacher quality, but when they are well-designed, they can be a critical part of teacher development and support because they provide a framework from which teachers can improve their practice.
In recent years, teacher evaluation systems have come under fire in some communities. Teachers and advocates have argued that student test scores are not an accurate or fair way to assess teacher performance. Though only a small fraction of the teacher workforce has standardized testing connected to their performance evaluation, this argument has taken hold. Nevertheless, many teachers and system leaders have embraced the need to improve teacher evaluation systems so that they become tools for improving practice and ensuring teachers are receiving appropriate supports.
As federal policies shift to provide states and districts greater flexibility to craft their own evaluation systems, Massachusetts offers an interesting model. It has been less controversial because test scores serve as merely a check on the system rather than a driver of it. In addition, instead of using an algorithm to determine teacher effectiveness, Massachusetts empowers school leaders to use their judgment to make these decisions. By empowering evaluators and educators—who are able to determine their own growth plans if they are high-performing—and embedding the evaluation system within a broader system of feedback and professional development, the Massachusetts model supports continuous improvement of educators.
Catherine Brown is the Vice President of Education Policy at the Center for American Progress. Lisette Partelow is the Director of Teacher Policy at the Center. Annette Konoske-Graf is a Policy Analyst with the K-12 Education team at the Center.