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Public Schools, Public Teacher Evaluations?

Public Schools, Public Teacher Evaluations?

Posted by Rod McCloy on 03/24/2015

When it comes to education, most parents would prefer that their children be instructed by the very best teachers. But how can parents determine who the best teachers are? Should parents have access to information from performance evaluations of teachers in their state?

Many state boards of education are wrestling with this latter question. States presently adopt a wide range of approaches to handling evaluation data. Some states (such as Virginia) treat teacher evaluation data as personal records, meaning that they lie beyond the reach of interested parents. Other states (such as Indiana) release this information but do so only in an aggregated form that prohibits identification of specific teachers by name. Then, some states (such as Florida) readily release teacher evaluation scores statewide, allowing parents to see how teachers compare to one another on the state-mandated evaluation scale.

Whether to release teacher evaluation data for public consumption seems to comprise two primary issues: whether the evaluation scores are reliable and valid indicators of teacher performance, and whether the benefits of releasing this information outweigh the potential negative ramifications.

Are Evaluation Scores Reliable, Valid Indicators of Teacher Performance?

First, if evaluation scores do not constitute a reliable, valid index of teacher performance, they clearly should not be used, let alone released. Most states are employing evaluation systems that include students’ performance on standardized tests (usually state-level tests, such as Virginia’s Standards of Learning [SOL] or Kentucky's Performance Rating for Educational Progress [K-PREP]) as a component of a teacher’s performance score – a component that can be as large as 40 to 50 percent of the evaluation score in some states (e.g., Florida and Indiana). As written elsewhere ( Teacher Evaluation Part 1, Teacher Evaluation Part 2, Teacher Evaluation Part 3 ), this yields a measure of teacher effectiveness (the results of performance) rather than a measure of teacher performance. Although both performance and effectiveness are important to understand, it is performance that should be used to determine teacher personnel decisions and, if data dissemination is permitted by law, parents’ decisions about who are the best-performing teachers in their state. Thus, states should first ensure they are focused on performance when they mean performance and effectiveness when they mean effectiveness so that teachers will not be blamed or credited for results that lie largely outside their sphere of influence.

Do the Benefits of Releasing Teacher Evaluation Scores Outweigh the Potential Negative Ramifications?

Assuming that a state has a handle on its sound definitions and assessments of performance and effectiveness, the discussion becomes one of anticipated benefits and drawbacks of releasing evaluation data that will permit parents to identify which teachers stand out and which do not. One obvious benefit would be that parents could have additional information that could help them become more involved in their children’s education. Of course, this assumes that the evaluation scores are easily interpreted by the general public – something that arguably is not the case at the moment, with value-added modeling and student growth percentiles all in play.

One potential negative outcome is the potential for the evaluation data to suffer the affliction common to so many operational performance appraisal systems: reduced score variability, leading to minimal differentiation among employees. In short, everyone scores the same (usually very high on the rating scale), and so the data become meaningless. In contrast, when data come from evaluations meant to identify developmental (i.e., training) needs, one usually sees a much wider range of scores. The pressure to “show well” as a school or school district could lead evaluators to inflate their ratings, knowing that the scores will become public and not wanting to have to answer questions about why their teachers are not faring as well as others in the state. Thus, in an ironic twist, pressure by parents to make such scores available for their scrutiny could lead to a situation where the data would be free to use but of little worth. States that do release these scores to the public provide reasonable case studies to determine the potential effects on parent behavior, teacher behavior (including retention/turnover), and evaluator behavior. We are unaware as to whether there are signs of this problem in Florida or other states that release such information (e.g., California), but it is something to track.

In sum, the issue of public accessibility of teacher evaluation data raises a dilemma for school administrators, who must manage the delicate balance of an open-door policy on the one hand and issues of personal privacy on the other. Many of these decisions will be reached in the courts. It remains to be seen how the decisions to be rendered will influence practitioners’ development of teacher performance evaluation systems in the future. Stay tuned.

About the Author

Dr. Rod McCloy is a Principal Staff Scientist for HumRRO.

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