Still striving to reach a consensus on teacher evaluations

It’s been seven years since Race to the Top was approved to reform America’s educational system, with teacher evaluations being a major part of those reforms. And since then, numerous programs have been implemented to take on that challenge — many of them stirring controversy as educators and other leaders try to figure out what’s fair.

Take a look at some of the developments across the nation to address the matter of teacher evaluations, and the ongoing battle to develop systems that are fair and effective:

Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed by President Barack Obama on Feb. 17, 2009, about $4.35 billion is designated to help states to improve their education systems. As part of that initiative, Race to the Top gets underway to distribute funds to those states that are more aggressive about hitting requirements and taking the steps to improve their schools. Teacher evaluations are included as part of those requirements.

That same year, the District of Columbia Public Schools launched IMPACT, an evaluation system that’s touted for prioritizing value-added assessments in teacher evaluations. Using “master educators” to conduct the observations, the system also weighed the evaluated teacher’s commitment to their own professional development. As an incentive, teachers rated as highly effective are determined to be eligible for bonuses, while “ineffective teachers” are up for potential dismissal.

In 2012, more than 350,000 stay home from school for seven days as Chicago teachers strike to protest new teacher evaluation requirements and wage cuts. Under Chicago’s REACH (Recognizing Educators Advancing Chicago’s Students) initiative, about 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation score will be based on student growth as measured by test scores.

Earlier this year, in a study of those 2012 reforms, the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research revealed that elementary school teachers who scored the lowest on the evaluations typically served in schools with the “highest levels of poverty.” That finding took into consideration scores that had been adjusted to account for the socioeconomic status of the student body, according to the report. The report found that 30 percent of the teachers with the lowest scores worked in the most disadvantaged schools, compared to 9 percent in schools with the lowest levels of poverty.

In 2013, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation reveals the results of a three-year study, the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET). It determines that value-added scores do provide an accurate assessment of teachers’ impact on student performance. However, the study also concluded that the level of accuracy was higher when paired with additional performance measures. As a result, MET concluded that value-added scores should only make up one-third to one-half of a teacher’s evaluation..

In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo set out to reform that state’s education system in 2014 by implementing tougher teacher evaluations — proposing using outside consultants as the way to conduct them. Under those new guidelines, he proposed using student test scores as a way to evaluate teachers. However, in the face of parents’ protests, the state is changing course — reducing the weight of student test scores in teacher evaluations.

In other parts of the nation, from Connecticut to California, developments in teacher evaluations are still undergoing scrutiny. As research continues to emerge on the effectiveness of varied systems, it appears the debate on how to best evaluate teachers will be ongoing.