A Stronger Evaluation System

Comments by MTA President Paul Toner to the Board of Elementary ad Secondary Education on the Educator Evaluation Task Force recommendations, March 22, 2011.

We believe that the task force report presented to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is an accurate reflection of the views of the majority of the members of the task force, including all or nearly all who work in education as teachers or administrators. If the recommendations are adopted, we believe these changes will create a stronger evaluation system that is better able to identify educator strengths and weaknesses, and that will drive more focused and effective strategies for improvement. That, in turn, will serve the interests of all Massachusetts students.

Reinventing Educator Evaluation Policy Brief

MTA's report, Reinventing Educator Evaluation

A cornerstone of this new system is that it is based on multiple measures of teacher effectiveness and requires these measures to be validated against one another. The starting point always has been and should be observation by a trained evaluator, whether a principal, a department head or a peer, for those districts that adopt a peer assistance model. In addition to observing the educator at work, the evaluator must assess the work product of that educator – such as lesson plans, drama performances, numbers of students successfully guided through the college admissions process or development of district budget priorities that support student learning.

The evaluation should also include multiple measures of student learning and outcomes, including district- and classroom-based measures. One measure would be trends in student MCAS growth scores over at least three years, where those are available. The task force was right to not put a specific percentage on this measure because the research is very clear that growth scores can provide some useful information, but they are also subject to very high error rates – that is, they are known to falsely identify excellent teachers as weak ones and weak teachers as good ones. On this point, 90 percent of task force members were in agreement, including both those who conduct evaluations and those who are evaluated.

In the final analysis, the main purpose of looking at all these measures is to determine if there are areas where the educator needs to improve and then to provide him or her with the tools needed to improve. For those who are already exemplary, a good evaluation system may help identify career paths they will want to consider pursuing, such as becoming mentor teachers, peer reviewers or administrators. For those whose performance is unsatisfactory even after they have had ample opportunity to improve, termination or demotion to a more appropriate position are the viable alternatives. 

Overall, we believe that a better evaluation system will be of great benefit in many respects. It will help our schools meet crucial needs, keep promising teachers in the classroom and help narrow the achievement gap, thereby meeting needs that are critical for our students.

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