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The responsibility for ensuring teachers meet high-performance expectations rests on many shoulders: while teacher preparation programs must give teachers an adequate foundation, ongoing professional development must deepen teachers' skills and keep them current. Nonetheless, the fact remains that neither of these steps completely ensures every teacher is meeting what is required of them. As a result, states must set standards for teacher evaluation to guarantee that teachers are performing at the highest level possible and to intervene where teachers are not.

The Need To Define Quality Teaching

It is difficult to establish a teacher evaluation system without a widely agreed-upon benchmark for "good teaching." Such a definition needs to address the requirements for subject-matter and pedagogical mastery, the teacher's responsibility for improving student achievement and the larger role of the teacher within the school. Once defined, evaluation mechanisms need to promote the benchmark and ensure teachers are attaining it.

Performance as the Basis

Too frequently, evaluation mechanisms are only tangentially related to any such definition of quality teaching, and are based instead on criteria that specify a variety of inputs — courses taken, test scores achieved, institutional pedigrees — instead of teachers' actual performance. However, one successful performance-based effort gaining renown is applying to education the Baldrige quality management criteria used in many corporations. Another more widely recognized system that focuses specifically on teachers and establishes benchmarks for teaching excellence has been developed by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC). Their work has drawn greater attention to the skills teachers can demonstrate, and often is the basis for teacher peer-evaluation systems that have gained wide popularity in recent years.

The Link to Student Achievement

Policymakers increasingly are insisting that teacher-evaluation mechanisms link teachers' evaluations, promotions or salaries to student test results. Other policymakers, along with many educators, insist that no meaningful assessment of a student's academic progress or a teacher's effectiveness can be made on the basis of standardized tests, especially a single test. Portfolios, which may give evidence of teachers' effectiveness in the classroom, are becoming an increasingly common means of evaluating teachers.

Who is Accountable?

While some policymakers seek to hold individual teachers accountable for student achievement, other decisionmakers as well as educators argue that a system of individual accountability — especially one that metes out rewards and sanctions — creates unhealthy competition among teachers and undermines collegiality. In addition, they argue, responsibility and accountability for student achievement go beyond the efforts of any individual teacher. As an alternative to individual accountability, many would seek to hold teachers and school staff collectively accountable. And some would extend formal accountability for student achievement to district officials and state policymakers who are responsible for providing adequate education resources, as well as state policies supportive of good learning and teaching. Another view, espoused prominently by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, holds that schools should be the central focus of any accountability system, with school principals held accountable for their buildings' performance. According to this view, principals must be given the managerial authority to evaluate, promote and dismiss teachers as appropriate to maximize student achievement.

Key Policy Issues and Questions

  • How can states support districts in developing strong evaluation systems?

  • Are evaluation standards aligned with school, district and state performance objectives?

  • For what should an individual teacher be held accountable?

  • How to balance inputs and outputs to craft a fair and equitable teacher-evaluation system?

  • What mechanisms exist to assess student achievement gains? How can policies use student achievement as a factor in teacher evaluation?


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