Evaluation of Effectiveness: Arkansas

Identifying Effective Teachers Policy


The state should require instructional effectiveness to be the preponderant criterion of any teacher evaluation.

Meets in part
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2015). Evaluation of Effectiveness: Arkansas results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/AR-Evaluation-of-Effectiveness-71

Analysis of Arkansas's policies

Arkansas does not require that objective evidence of student learning be the preponderant criterion of its teacher evaluations.

All districts must implement evaluation systems using the Arkansas Teacher Excellence and Support System (TESS) as a blueprint by 2014-2015. However, the state has received a one-year waiver extension that will not require the inclusion of assessment scores until 2015-2016.

The language in the rules' purpose articulates that evidence of student growth is a "significant" part of the evaluation system. In practice, student growth acts only as a trigger to alter the rating if there is a discrepancy between the performance of the teacher and the performance of students. The overall rating for teachers who meet or exceed the student growth threshold is the same as the performance rating. The summative performance rating for teachers with summary growth statistics that do not meet the applicable threshold of growth for two consecutive years is lowered by one level. Teachers may not be designated as distinguished unless their growth scores meet or exceed the threshold. 

These rules require annual evidence of student growth from artifacts and external assessment measures, with evidence of student learning not limited to a single assessment. Artifacts must represent output from one or more of the following: lesson plans; self-directed or collaborative research; participation in professional development; contributions to parent, community or professional meetings; or classroom, district-level, state-level or national assessments. 

For both tested and nontested content areas, external assessment measures—defined as measures of student achievement or growth that are administered, developed and scored by someone other than the teacher being evaluated—must be among the artifacts considered. 

For tested areas, the teacher and evaluator must choose the summary growth statistic associated with the state-mandated assessment for the content area as one of the external assessment measures. 

For both tested and nontested content areas, districts may be authorized to create external assessment measures that include formative assessments. If an external assessment measure does not exist for a nontested content area, and an external assessment measure is not created, then a state-mandated assessment may be prescribed.

Evaluators must use the following multiple rating categories: distinguished, proficient, basic and unsatisfactory. 

Teachers who do not meet the threshold for growth cannot receive a distinguished rating. Teachers who do not meet the threshold for two consecutive years will be lowered one performance rating.

Classroom observations are required. 


Recommendations for Arkansas

Require instructional effectiveness to be the preponderant criterion of any teacher evaluation. 
Arkansas's requirement of student growth falls short by failing to require that evidence of student learning be the most significant criterion. Although the state does not allow teachers to be rated distinguished if they do not meet or exceed the student growth threshold, teachers who do not meet the threshold could be rated proficient. Arkansas's policy does not require this "trigger" until a teacher does not meet the threshold for two years. 

Further, some of Arkansas's allowances for evidence of student growth—such as lesson plans and participation in professional development—are not measures of student learning. The state should either require a common evaluation instrument in which evidence of student learning is the most significant criterion, or it should specifically require that student learning be the preponderant criterion in local evaluation processes. This can be accomplished by requiring objective evidence to count for at least half of the evaluation score or through other scoring mechanisms, such as a matrix, that ensure that nothing affects the overall score more. Whether state or locally developed, a teacher should not be able to receive an effective rating if found ineffective in the classroom. 

Ensure that evaluations also include classroom observations that specifically focus on and document the effectiveness of instruction.
Although Arkansas requires classroom observations as part of teacher evaluations, the state should articulate guidelines that focus classroom observations on the quality of instruction, as measured by student time on task, student grasp or mastery of the lesson objective and efficient use of class time.

State response to our analysis

Arkansas responded that student growth is a significant factor in its evaluation system because teachers cannot be rated at the highest levels of performance if the growth of their students does not meet the established threshold. The state added that it is reviewing growth measures based on data during the pilot year and first year of implementation and will align methods for calculating student growth with the method for school and district accountability. Arkansas is also expanding the types of growth measures that can be included in an educator’s annual overall rating, and the final approval for how growth is measured will be approved by the State Board of Education. 

Research rationale

Value-added analysis connects student data to teacher data to measure achievement and performance.
Value-added models are an important tool for measuring student achievement and school effectiveness. These models measure individual students' learning gains, controlling for students' previous knowledge. They can also control for students' background characteristics. In the area of teacher quality, value-added models offer a fairer and potentially more meaningful way to evaluate a teacher's effectiveness than other methods schools use.

For example, at one time a school might have known only that its fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Jones, consistently had students who did not score at grade level on standardized assessments of reading. With value-added analysis, the school can learn that Mrs. Jones' students were reading on a third-grade level when they entered her class, and that they were above a fourth-grade performance level at the end of the school year. While not yet reaching appropriate grade level, Mrs. Jones' students had made more than a year's progress in her class. Because of value-added data, the school can see that she is an effective teacher.Teachers should be judged primarily by their impact on students.

While many factors should be considered in formally evaluating a teacher, nothing is more important than effectiveness in the classroom.
Unfortunately, districts have used many evaluation instruments, including some mandated by states, that are structured so that teachers can earn a satisfactory rating without any evidence that they are sufficiently advancing student learning in the classroom. It is often enough that teachers appear to be trying, not that they are necessarily succeeding.

Many evaluation instruments give as much weight, or more, to factors that lack any direct correlation with student performance—for example, taking professional development courses, assuming extra duties such as sponsoring a club or mentoring and getting along well with colleagues. Some instruments hesitate to hold teachers accountable for student progress. Teacher evaluation instruments should include factors that combine both human judgment and objective measures of student learning.

Evaluation of Effectiveness: Supporting Research
Reports strongly suggest that most current teacher evaluations are largely a meaningless process, failing to identify the strongest and weakest teachers. The New Teacher Project's report, "Hiring, Assignment, and Transfer in Chicago Public Schools", July 2007 at: http://www.tntp.org/files/TNTPAnalysis-Chicago.pdf, found that the CPS teacher performance evaluation system at that time did not distinguish strong performers and was ineffective at identifying poor performers and dismissing them from Chicago schools. See also Lars Lefgren and Brian Jacobs, "When Principals Rate Teachers," Education Next, Volume 6, No. 2, Spring 2006, pp.59-69. Similar findings were reported for a larger sample in The New Teacher Project's The Widget Effect (2009) at: http://widgeteffect.org/.  See also MET Project (2010). Learning about teaching: Initial findings from the measures of effective teaching project. Seattle, WA: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

A Pacific Research Institute study found that in California, between 1990 and 1999, only 227 teacher dismissal cases reached the final phase of termination hearings. The authors write: "If all these cases occurred in one year, it would represent one-tenth of 1 percent of tenured teachers in the state. Yet, this number was spread out over an entire decade." In Los Angeles alone, over the same time period, only one teacher went through the dismissal process from start to finish. See Pamela A. Riley, et al., "Contract for Failure," Pacific Research Institute (2002).

That the vast majority of districts have no teachers deserving of an unsatisfactory rating does not seem to correlate with our knowledge of most professions that routinely have individuals in them who are not well suited to the job. Nor do these teacher ratings seem to correlate with school performance, suggesting teacher evaluations are not a meaningful measure of teacher effectiveness. For more information on the reliability of many evaluation systems, particularly the binary systems used by the vast majority of school districts, see S. Glazerman, D. Goldhaber, S. Loeb, S. Raudenbush, D. Staiger, and G. Whitehurst, "Evaluating Teachers: The Important Role of Value-Added." The Brookings Brown Center Task Group on Teacher Quality, 2010. 

There is growing evidence suggesting that standards-based teacher evaluations that include multiple measures of teacher effectiveness—both objective and subjective measures—correlate with teacher improvement and student achievement. For example see T. Kane, E. Taylor, J. Tyler, and A. Wooten, "Evaluating Teacher Effectiveness." Education Next, Volume 11, No. 3, Summer 2011, pp.55-60; E. Taylor and J. Tyler, "The Effect of Evaluation on Performance: Evidence from Longitudinal Student Achievement Data of Mid-Career Teachers." NBER Working Paper No. 16877, March 2011; as well as H. Heneman III, A. Milanowski, S. Kimball, and A. Odden, "CPRE Policy Brief: Standards-based Teacher Evaluation as a Foundation for Knowledge- and Skill-based Pay," Consortium for Policy Research, March 2006.