Most education reformers agree that effective teaching is defined by improving student learning, but they disagree on how to measure teacher effectiveness and how to use those measurements to improve teaching. Thus far, most of the policy debate on teacher effectiveness has focused on using test scores to implement merit pay or to fire teachers, but those strategies alone will not lift teacher performance on a large scale. So says “Measuring and Improving the Effectiveness of High School Teachers,” a new issue brief from the Alliance for Excellent Education.
Instead, the brief argues that effectiveness measures could be better used to enhance professional development and teacher education, strengthen evaluations and career development, and revamp accountability policies to reward and encourage student learning. Only then can staffing, pay, or any other high school reform effort advance the primary goal of improving student performance.
“Student outcomes, as much as teacher qualifications, should be the measurement of success,” says Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Using effectiveness as a way for teachers to build on their strengths and improve any weaknesses can only result in a more effective teaching force and, in turn, higher student achievement.”
But before effectiveness measures can be used to improve teaching, the brief argues, educators and policymakers must invest in solid, objective ways to measure a teacher’s effectiveness. It notes that many experts currently believe that the best method is a “value-added” analysis, a statistical method that compares a student’s performance on a standardized assessment to an estimate of how much academic growth a student is expected to make for the year.2
Determining added value for high school teachers, however, is more difficult than for teachers in the lower grades. The brief says that a high school student’s achievement, especially in the humanities, is influenced by multiple teachers. In addition, most high schools do not have standardized end-of-course exams, nor do they administer standardized tests every year; thus,
a value-added analysis will mostly capture the impact of teachers in core academic subjects, such as English, math, science, and social studies, for which standardized assessments are available.
The brief also notes, however, that when value-added analysis is done carefully and supplemented with other measures of student learning, the method can generate reliable data that can be used to help teachers improve. In fact, over the past decade, high schools in Tennessee, Ohio, North Carolina, Texas, and Colorado have generated high school value-added data to improve teaching.
The brief also considers how effectiveness measures can be used to improve the knowledge and skills of teachers so that they improve student achievement. One way is to evaluate which professional development programs are the most productive in enhancing teacher effectiveness and to identify the top-performing teachers and leverage their expertise to help improve low-performing teachers. By using the strengths of effective teachers to improve the practice of other teachers, professional development fosters collaboration and builds capacity within a school. In addition, effectiveness measures can enhance teacher education programs by using value-added data to determine the effectiveness of candidates graduating from a specific teacher preparation program, a practice that is currently underway in Louisiana, Ohio, and Virginia.
The brief adds that effectiveness measures can also be used to strengthen teacher evaluations, which are often poorly constructed and administered randomly, and aid in career development. They can also work to revamp accountability policies if responsibility for student growth primarily rests on the shoulders of schools as a whole, since multiple teachers contribute to student learning, particularly at the high school level. At the same time, the brief finds that individual incentives such as extra pay, when combined with professional support, are crucial factors in increasing teacher effectiveness.
Admitting that effectiveness measures are “far from perfect,” the brief maintains that they “hold great promise … for improving student outcomes.” However, calling for improved measures of student learning, it adds that policymakers and educators must take steps to ensure that effectiveness measures are accurate and actionable and notes that “States and districts must enhance their data systems so that yearly student data is accessible and so that student data can be tied to teacher data in ways that produce effectiveness measures on a large scale.” Currently, only fifteen states can link student data to teachers in order to perform value-added analysis.
Because few valid and reliable measures of teacher knowledge and skills exist and most teacher evaluation tools are inadequate, policymakers and educators must develop and strengthen teacher effectiveness measures that assess knowledge, skill, and classroom practice. The brief adds that the execution and culture of professional development must markedly change, evaluations and career ladders must be enhanced, and accountability systems must have the right mix of incentives and consequences that fosters better teaching and raises student achievement.
The complete brief is available at here.
2 The brief acknowledges that standardized assessments are not perfect measures, but that they are better than the haphazard and irregular evaluations and qualifications-which it says are only proxies for effectiveness-that are currently used to evaluate teachers. It adds that judging teachers by the performance of students on a single test is not an accurate measure of what teachers contribute to student learning. Instead, it says that teacher effectiveness should be measured by the amount of growth a student makes over time, demonstrated on several assessments.