Evaluation of Effectiveness : Virginia

2011 Identifying Effective Teachers Policy

Goal

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

Does not meet
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Evaluation of Effectiveness : Virginia results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/VA-Evaluation-of-Effectiveness--8

Analysis of Virginia's policies

Virginia 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 a teacher evaluation instrument that "addresses, among other things, student academic progress and the skills and knowledge of instructional personnel." It has promulgated guidelines for teacher evaluations (Guidelines for Uniform Performance Standards) that instruct districts to evaluate teacher performance across a number of domains, including, among others, instructions, professionalism, and planning and assessment.

The guidelines focus primarily on teachers' knowledge and skills and less on teacher effectiveness as evidenced by student learning. Virginia recommends that evidence of student learning gains be included, suggesting multiple measures that can be used to capture and demonstrate these gains. While the state's intentions were almost certainly that these multiple measures include observations and an objective measure, the language here is too ambiguous to ensure that districts will follow suit.

Virginia has also recently approved a new model for evaluating teachers that recommends that students' academic progress account for 40 percent of a teacher's overall performance rating. However, these are merely guidelines, so districts can decide how much to actually weigh student achievement as well as how to evaluate it. 

Citation

Recommendations for Virginia

Require instructional effectiveness to be the preponderant criterion of any teacher evaluation.
Virginia 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. Whether state or locally developed, a teacher should not be able to receive a satisfactory rating if found ineffective in the classroom. 

Ensure that classroom observations specifically focus on and document the effectiveness of instruction.
Virginia should not only specifically require that its evaluations include classroom observations, but also the state should specifically articulate that these observations focus on effectiveness of instruction. The primary component of a classroom observation should be 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, Virginia 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

Virginia cited the section of its Code pertaining to evaluations for administrators. "Each local school board shall adopt for use by the division superintendent clearly defined criteria for a performance evaluation process for principals, assistant principals, and supervisors that are consistent with the performance objectives set forth in the Guidelines for Uniform Performance Standards and Evaluation Criteria for Teachers, Administrators, and Superintendents ... and that includes, among other things, an assessment of such administrators' skills and knowledge; student academic progress and school gains in student learning; and effectiveness in addressing school safety and enforcing student discipline."

The state also pointed out that in April 2011, it approved new performance standards and evaluation criteria for teachers, and that student academic progress is a performance standard.

How we graded

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 use 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.

A teacher evaluation instrument that focuses on student learning could include the following components:

A. Observation
  1. Ratings should be based on multiple observations ideally by multiple persons within the same year to produce a more accurate rating than is possible with a single observation. Teacher observers should be trained to use a valid and reliable observation protocol (meaning that it has been tested to ensure that the results are trustworthy and useful). The observers should assign degrees of proficiency to observed behaviors.
  2. The primary observation component should be 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.
  3. Other factors often considered in the course of an observation can provide useful information, including:
  • Questioning techniques and other methods for engaging class
  • Differentiation of instruction
  • Continual student checks for understanding throughout lesson
  • Appropriate lesson structure and pacing
  • Appropriate grouping structures
  • Reinforcement of student effort 
  • Classroom management and use of effective classroom routines
Other elements commonly found on many instruments, such as "makes appropriate and effective use of technology" and "ties lesson into previous and future learning experiences" may seem important but can be difficult to document reliably in an observation. Having too many elements can distract the observer from the central question: "Are students learning?"

B. Objective Measures of Student Learning

Apart from the observation, the evaluation instrument should provide evidence of work performance. Many districts use portfolios, which create a lot of work for the teacher and may be unreliable indicators of effectiveness. Good and less-cumbersome alternatives to the standard portfolio exist, for example:
  • The value that a teacher adds, as measured by standardized test scores
  • Periodic standardized diagnostic assessments
  • Benchmark assessments that show student growth
  • Artifacts of student work connected to specific student learning standards that are randomly selected for review by the principal or senior faculty and scored using rubrics and descriptors
  • Examples of typical assignments, assessed for their quality and rigor
  • Periodic checks on progress with the curriculum (e.g., progress on textbook) coupled with evidence of student mastery of the curriculum from quizzes, tests and exams

Research rationale

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, "Teacher Hiring, Assignment and Transfer in Chicago Public Schools (CPS)" (July2007) 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 Brian Jacobs and Lars Lefgren, "When Principals Rate Teachers," Education Next (Spring 2006). 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. Loeb et al, "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 et al, "Evaluating Teacher Effectiveness." Education Next Vol 11 No. 3 (2011); E. Taylor and J. Tyler, "The Effect of Evaluation on Performance: Evidence from Longitudinal Student Achievement Data of Mid-Career Teachers." National Bureau of Economic Research (2011); as well as Herbert G. Heneman III, et al., "CPRE Policy Brief: Standards-based Teacher Evaluation as a Foundation for Knowledge- and Skill-based Pay," Consortium for Policy Research, 2006.