Evaluating Effective Teachers


Since 2009, more than two-thirds of states have enacted legislation to reform how teachers and principals are evaluated.  Many states have implemented these changes as a result of incentives offered by the U.S. Department of Education through the Race to the Top competition and as a condition of receipt of a waiver from the requirements of some provisions of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. 

TeacherIn these states, approximately half of educator evaluations now will be tied to multiple measures of student performance determined by the state or district, including statewide standardized tests and interim assessments.  In some states, districts can evaluate teachers of subjects not included in standardized tests by selecting from an approved list of alternative measures, including locally development measures such as performance standards.  The other portion of the evaluation is based on other measures of the educator’s performance, such as peer or principal observations of teaching and student perception surveys. 

For more information on this topic, including the pros and cons of this new approach, visit NCSL’s Legislator’s Guide to Educator Effectiveness Policies.

Questions for Legislators to Ask About Teacher Evaluations

As legislators consider policies to improve measurement of teacher effectiveness, they may want to seek answers to the following questions to gain a deeper understanding of state policies and practices.

  • How are teachers now evaluated?  What measure of student performance, if any, are used in those evaluations?
  • Has your state recently enacted new legislation or regulations to revamp teacher evaluations?  What is the primary purpose of the new evaluation system—to identify the most effective teachers, to ensure that struggling teachers receive professional development and guidance, to improve student learning, or to inform human resource decisions?
  • Did your state receive funding or a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education to implement these changes?
  • Is the legislature working closely with the state education agency and teachers or their representatives to ensure successful development and implementation of the new evaluation system?
  • Has your state created a model evaluation system?  Is this system required or optional for districts?  Does your state provide technical assistance and/or funding to districts to create and implement the new evaluation system?
  • What are the factors in the evaluation?  By whom and how were they selected? How is the evaluation tied to student performance?  Does your evaluation use multiple measures of student performance?  Are the measures fixed or can they fluctuate based on subject and context?  How and by whom are the measures determined? How will teachers of untested subjects account for student achievement?  What factors account for the remainder of the evaluation?
  • Are student performance measures sophisticated enough to dampen the effects of assessment measurement error and to include all tested students, even those with missing data?  Can the student performance measures incorporate different types of assessments?  How reliable are the value-added measures from year to year as a measure of teacher effectiveness?
  • Is your state education agency or school systems capturing accurate student-teacher links, which account for student and teacher mobility and shared instructional practice?  Can teachers verify or modify their own rosters in this process?
  • How many observations are required or recommended for evaluation?  Is flexibility allowed at the local level?  Who will conduct the observations?  Are the evaluators trained and regularly reviewed to ensure reliability?
  • Are teacher evaluation systems aligned to professional growth systems that include induction, professional development and teacher leadership opportunities?
  • As part of the evaluation system, are districts required or encouraged to establish or expand existing peer assistance and review programs that allow peers to help support new and struggling teachers?
  • Do you require principals to collaborate with teachers and their representatives in the development of improvement strategies and professional learning opportunities, including mentoring for teachers, where the evaluation reveals they struggle?
  • Is your implementation timeline realistic?  What provisions exist that can allow you to adjust your timeline, if needed?
  • How is your state funding state and district implementation?   

State Policy Options for Teacher Evaluations

The following policy options are among those states are considering to improve the measurement of teacher effectiveness.

  • Require the state education agency to develop teacher evaluation systems that use multiple measures of student performance that are valid and reliable for assessing teacher and principal performance.
  • Establish clear, rigorous expectations for teacher and principal performance, and build a fair system that accurately measures performance against these expectations.
  • Provide school districts the flexibility to create and use their own systems of teacher evaluation and determine the appropriate weight of student performance and other factors in such evaluations.
  • Ensure that the evaluation system is created with input from teachers, principals and other key stakeholders.
  • Ensure that your state data system can accurately tie a student’s performance and growth to the student’s teacher.  Allow teachers and principals to easily access and verify data, including student rosters.
  • Where available, use a multiple year average of student growth in a teacher’s evaluation in order to increase the reliability and stability of this measure. 
  • Ensure that new evaluation systems include multiple, meaningful ratings.
  • Ensure that educators receive opportunities for professional learning in areas identified as in need of improvement on the teachers’s evaluation; ensure that evaluations and professional learning plans are linked. 
  • Establish clear consequences for continuously poor performance after providing ample opportunities for improvement and provide a swift and fair appeals process.        
  • Direct the state education agency or school districts, in collaboration with teachers and their representatives, to develop fair and equitable methods of measuring student achievement for teachers of untested subjects.
  • Develop a comprehensive communications plan to ensure that stakeholders receive timely news about implementation and have adequate opportunities to provide input in design.
  • Require training and monitoring of evaluators—principals and outside evaluators—to ensure that observations and evaluations will be conducted efficiently, consistently and accurately.
  • If the new evaluations are shown to be valid and reliable measures of teacher and principal effectiveness, consider their use as a factor in high-stakes employment purposes such as pay and continuing licensure.
  • Is your implementation timeline realistic?  What provisions exist that can allow you to adjust your timeline, if needed?
  • How is your state funding state and district implementation?   

Additional Resources

NCSL Resources

Other Resources