Evaluation of Effectiveness: California

Identifying Effective Teachers Policy


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

Meets a small part of goal
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2013). Evaluation of Effectiveness: California results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/CA-Evaluation-of-Effectiveness-22

Analysis of California's policies

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

The state requires local school districts to develop teacher evaluations that meet a list of criteria established by the state. California's policy states that the teacher evaluation instruments used in the districts should include, among other criteria, evidence of student progress toward district-established "standards of expected pupil achievement" and, if applicable, achievement on state-adopted criterion-referenced assessments. Criteria for the evaluation also include observations of instructional technique and maintenance of a suitable learning environment, among others. 

In June 2012, the Los Angeles County Supreme Court ruled that this district was in violation of state law for not ensuring that test scores were used in teacher evaluations. Therefore, although this decision from the bench appears to define "if applicable" as mandatory if test scores exist, it is not clear whether the decision extends beyond the boundaries of the Los Angeles school district. Further, this interpretation of mandatory use of test scores if they exist is clearly not enforced across the state. 


Recommendations for California

Require instructional effectiveness to be the preponderant criterion of any teacher evaluation. 
California should require that evidence of student learning be the most significant criterion in its new teacher evaluation system. Further, a teacher should not be able to receive a satisfactory rating if found to be ineffective in the classroom. 

Ensure that evaluations also include classroom observations that specifically focus on and document the effectiveness of instruction. 
Although California 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.

Utilize rating categories that meaningfully differentiate among various levels of teacher performance. 
To ensure that the evaluation instrument accurately differentiates among levels of teacher performance, California should require districts to utilize multiple rating categories, such as highly effective, effective, needs improvement and ineffective. A binary system that merely categorizes teachers as satisfactory or unsatisfactory is inadequate.

State response to our analysis

California recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis.

Research rationale

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.