January 22, 2016

Steinberg: New research shows need to reconsider how teacher evaluations are used

High-stakes evaluations — often based on teacher observation scores — can have a dramatic impact on teacher’s careers.

But new research from Penn GSE’s Matthew Steinberg and Rachel Garrett of the American Institutes of Research questions the effectiveness and fairness of these observation scores. In a study published Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Steinberg and Garrett found that the achievement of students entering a teacher’s classroom accounts for much of a teacher’s evaluated performance. This means that prior academic achievement of students is a significant predictor of teacher success in the high-stakes evaluation system.

Steinberg discussed the findings and their implications for a story in Education Week.

What does this mean for policy? Should states and districts chuck out pieces of these observation protocols that seem susceptible to this kind of bias? Steinberg doesn't think so, since the information from these systems can still be used as a tool to help teachers improve overall.

But, if these indicators are going to factor into a rating that might affect teacher pay, promotion, or job security, then some tweaks might be needed—like using a rolling average over several years to help even out swings in performance due to classroom composition.

"Practitioners and policymakers really need to meet in the middle on this," Steinberg said.

Read the full Education Week story here.