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Minnesota’s new teacher-evaluation law among 17 given high marks

New teacher-evaluation laws in Minnesota and 16 other states have earned high marks from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit. Meanwhile, four states whose plans for identifying the best and worst teachers earned millions in federal stimulus dollars came in for criticism.

“Across the states, there is unprecedented momentum towards developing and implementing teacher evaluation systems that factor student achievement into teacher ratings,” the council reported [PDF].

In broad strokes, Minnesota’s law meets most of the goals advocated by the NCTQ, which advocates for reforms to teacher training, evaluation and compensation.

While it also enjoys the support of such disparate entities as the state’s largest teachers union, the Chamber of Commerce and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as a general framework, the new law has yet to translate to policy. And the details, its supporters agree, could be devilish.

Details to come later
Exactly how the system will work for most teachers will be determined by a task force that has yet to be convened by the state Department of Education. Earlier this month, the agency appointed a panel that’s charged with working out how principals will be evaluated.

Until this year, the standardized tests administered in Minnesota schools did not measure individual pupil performance from one year to another, making it impossible to know whether a student got a year or more of learning during a particular grade.

That has changed, but there is still no way of tying an educator’s effectiveness to the outcome obtained by any particular student. Nor do most educators and policymakers believe the tests measure the right things.

They don’t necessarily tell administrators which highly effective teachers’ practices are ripe for replication, nor do they yield other data that would help improve teaching on the whole.

Nationwide, according to the NCTQ report, states are still struggling with how to evaluate performance in grades and subjects where standardized tests aren’t administered, to give all teachers useful feedback on their evaluations and to communicate the changes in a way that doesn’t make teachers nervous.

By the time Minnesota’s evaluations are phased in, the state should also have begun using more useful “growth-model” tests and be moving toward new standards for student proficiency.

‘Changing landscape’ applauded
Concluding that it’s all right if evaluation systems are works in progress, the NCTQ applauded the “changing landscape.”

Two years ago, only 15 states required annual teacher performance reviews, and in some states that did mandate evaluations five years could elapse between reviews. Today, 24 states and the District of Colombia require annual reviews; 14 require the use of student achievement as “the preponderant criterion.” 

“The move to rethink how to evaluate teachers and explicitly tie assessments of teacher performance to student achievement marks an important shift in thinking about teacher quality,” the report continued. “The change is significant because policymaking around improving teacher quality to date has focused almost exclusively on teachers’ qualifications rather than on their effectiveness in the classroom and the results they get with students.”

Having a teacher evaluation system that incorporated data on student achievement and other measures was worth the most points in last year’s Race to the Top competition. Yet policies in RTTT winners Georgia, North Carolina and Massachusetts are too vague or too limited in scope, in the council’s view. Hawaii has yet to deliver a redesign that helped win its grant “in any significant way.”  

Coming a year too late to help win any stimulus dollars, the Minnesota law passed during this year’s legislative session gives “student achievement a significant, objective, meaningful and measurable role in how teacher performance is assessed,” according to the council.

A choice for districts
Districts may work with teachers union locals to come up with their own methods for evaluation, provided they meet certain requirements, or they can adopt procedures to be designed by the state task force.

The idea is to allow districts that have effective methods or promising pilot programs to continue to do what works while providing a fallback for localities that will struggle pressed to come up with ways to tie student academic achievement to the performance of a school nurse or band teacher.

And Minnesota has some districts that do an outstanding job using the evaluation process as an opportunity to nudge every instructor further down the path to excellence; task force members would do well to pay a visit to St. Francis, for example. 

Under the new law, 35 percent of a Minnesota teacher’s evaluation will be based on data regarding student achievement, engagement and commitment. In addition, teachers may present portfolios of student work that they feel shows evidence of growth.

Teachers who score poorly will be given support and a timeline toward becoming more effective. Minnesota does not yet mandate the firing of ineffective teachers.

Finally, hot on the heels of the NCTQ report, another study found that teachers who perform well in terms of student outcomes also are likely to score well when observed by evaluators. The finding should boost teacher confidence in a system of evaluations that incorporates multiple measures.

Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/31/2011 - 10:30 am.

    “Until this year, the standardized tests administered in Minnesota schools did not measure individual pupil performance from one year to another, making it impossible to know whether a student got a year or more of learning during a particular grade.

    That has changed, but there is still no way of tying an educator’s effectiveness to the outcome obtained by any particular student.”

    And yet, the union somehow manages to trot out their “Teacher of the Year”….what manner of sorcery do they employ to make the patently impossible, possible, Beth?

  2. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 10/31/2011 - 11:44 am.

    NCTQ is nothing but a front for corporate anti-teacher union political operators.

  3. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 10/31/2011 - 02:00 pm.

    In the past, higher NCTQ ratings have been directly correlated to states that have low educational outcomes but low teacher wages and low teacher rights.

    NCTQ is demonstrably more concerned with driving down labor costs rather than student outcomes.

    Go here:

    click the “2009” tab, and you will see in dark yellow the states with the best NCTQ ratings in 2009.

    They all, without fail, have horrible educational outcomes but NCTQ rates them the highest.

  4. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/31/2011 - 03:31 pm.

    “NCTQ is demonstrably more concerned with driving down labor costs rather than student outcomes.”

    Which is important, because as everyone knows, student outcomes are critically dependent on how much teachers are paid.


  5. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 10/31/2011 - 04:19 pm.

    I generally respect Beth Hawkins’ writing on educational matters but I have to point out two deficiencies in this report:

    First, not one teacher has even been evaluated by the Minnesota method yet, and the final parameters of the evaluations have yet to be written, so who cares if the future evaluation process has been given “high marks”?

    Secondly, and more importantly, it’s a little late to be passing on propaganda from the NCTQ without ONE MENTION of what it is.

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/31/2011 - 04:32 pm.

    Can’t say I know much about NCTQ, but what I see on the cuckingstool website indicated by Mr. Levine in #2 doesn’t inspire confidence, and Mr. Timmerman is exactly correct about the NCTQ website’s map of results for 2009. I clicked on every state, I think, and the state with the best overall score – a “C” – was… Florida. The only other states to rate even a “C–” were, as he suggested, states in the deep South with demonstrably terrible educational outcomes.

    As for Mr. Swift’s comment, I can’t speak to the situation in Minnesota, never having taught here. In the state / county / school district where I taught for 30 years, “Teacher of the Year” was a two-level award, and the “union” had little or nothing to do with it. Where I worked, each school had a “Teacher of the Year,” typically awarded by faculty vote at that school, including administrators. The year I was given the award, it had nothing to do, as far as I could tell, with my teaching, which was not notably different that year than it had been the year before, or was the year after.

    That year, however, was one of several years during which I chaired the school’s “faculty council,” which was charged by district administration with monitoring school performance, attendance, program, scheduling, adherence to various and sundry regulations, state-required testing, etc. I also coached a varsity sport, assisted with the drama program, and taught my usual class load. While that was going on, one of the kids on my junior varsity team was murdered in mid-year, and I was the first adult on the scene, so I was involved in a murder investigation, a funeral for one of the school’s students, and providing a memorial, which is still there, next to the playing field. Maybe the award was based on pity.

    In that state, however, each school district also selected a “Teacher of the Year,” and in that context, the “winner” was chosen by the school board as a result of what seemed to me basically a required campaign of self-promotion. Since I wasn’t interested in self-promotion, I didn’t take part in the district-wide competition, which led to the competition for the state award, but “the union” had nothing to do with who got the award, or the criteria upon which it was based.

    I continue to be puzzled by the brouhaha over the frequency of evaluation here. I was observed every year by the building principal, or his designated substitute, throughout my teaching career, so annual “performance review” was part of the job from my very first day in August of 1966. Trying to extrapolate a single hour’s observation into a year’s worth of lessons in different subjects and with different groups of kids was, to be polite, laughable, but at least there was a process on paper. I never locked my classroom doors – there were multiples – so an administrator could drop in anytime, and on rare occasions, that did happen, but it was no big deal. I always had organized lessons, and anyone who wanted to observe could do so.

    My primary objection to what’s being proposed for evaluation is that it increasingly relies on measures that are patently unreliable, primarily “student achievement” as measured on statewide tests in which the student has no investment whatsoever, and for which there are no consequences – to the student – either positive or negative.

    I’d never argue that there’s no such thing as an “ineffective” teacher – I served with several colleagues who would qualify easily for that label. The problem is that tying “effectiveness” to a quite artificial, and almost mythical, “student achievement” on statewide tests largely misses the point, and does nothing to get at the issue of what makes a teacher effective, or not.

    It also has teacher evaluation, and even compensation, tied to the behavior of people over whom the teacher has no real control, and for whom the result means, almost literally, nothing. I’m not sure it’s really an adequate or accurate comparison, but it seems to me the equivalent of evaluating Mr. Swift’s work as a design engineer of heavy equipment by judging the quality of the work done by the operators who use the equipment that Mr. Swift designs. He has no control over how they use the equipment he designs, or whether they even follow the correct operating instructions.

    Tying the measurement to portfolios of student work, might well be a more accurate measure, and I’ve seen that recommended in print by several authors over the years, but doing so would be extraordinarily time-consuming, and it still leaves open the important questions of who decides what constitutes “intellectual growth” on the student’s part, and how much of that can be directly tied to “Teacher ‘X’ ” rather than “Teacher ‘Z’,” or the student’s own reading and thinking outside of school altogether.

  7. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 10/31/2011 - 08:01 pm.

    My principal was in my room the first eek, and four or five times since. All unannounced surprises. If you want to rate me, watch me teach. My principal is in people’s rooms all the time.

    Tests are great tools to improve my teaching. I use them extensively. However, judging my teaching by them is stupid.

    One year my tests scores look bad, only a little over half exceeding the mark, but I had the toughest kids in the school and felt it was one of my best teaching jobs. I was still heart broken that not all passed, but I still did a good job.

    The very next year 100% of my kids exceeded the mark and the tests probably made me look like a genius. I happened to have been assigned all the top kids that year.

    I worked equally hard both years, but I can tell you it was way less stressful when I had the high achievers.

    Oh, and not one single time did I ever even stop to think what my colleagues were getting paid. Who cares.

  8. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/01/2011 - 02:05 pm.

    “Tests are great tools to improve my teaching. I use them extensively. However, judging my teaching by them is stupid.”

    That’s a fascinating statement, Alec. *You* have concluded that tests improve your teaching skills, but it’s “stupid” for *anyone else* to attempt the same trick.

    Maybe if you shared the smart process by which you came to know your skills were improved, stupid others could be enlightened!

  9. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/01/2011 - 02:06 pm.

    “Oh, and not one single time did I ever even stop to think what my colleagues were getting paid. Who cares.”

    A message your union steward needs to hear….

  10. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 11/01/2011 - 02:50 pm.

    To Mr Swift: The tests that students take are designed to measure *students’* achievements, NOT teachers. Is that so hard to understand? There are many things that effect student achievement and a teacher is only one of those things. So judging a teacher by student test scores is manifestly unfair.

    As to your second point: Is it so hard for you to understand that Alec doesn’t feel a need to compare his salary to the teacher who teaches in the classroom next door, but wants ALL teachers to be paid fairly?

  11. Submitted by Kirsten Zimmerman-Bence on 11/02/2011 - 09:14 am.

    I think that annual evaluations are a necessity! I would think that teachers would like the feedback so that they can feel rewarded for their good work and know where they can improve. I also hope that any evaluation includes some sort of parent and/or student component. The model for an evaluation should include the 3 Ps – Principal, Peers, Parents.

  12. Submitted by Randall Ryder on 11/02/2011 - 07:46 pm.

    You said it yourself. We don;t know if the tests are measuring the right things. If they are not, they are meaningless as is the entire proces. How long must we tinker with education?

  13. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 11/02/2011 - 09:39 pm.

    Teacher want evaluation. Teachers want feedback. good teachers like being observed.

    Tests, however, are best used for formative teacher improvement.

    1) I’ve literally scored 100% on my kids tests one year in a high poverty school and 50% in a different year. The year of 50% was probably a better job teaching.

    2) Another example, after taking a test we are judged on, the kid came back in 10 minutes. I gave them a stern lecture and sent them to the re-test. They felt bad and improved 3 grade levels in two days. Is that a reflection of my teaching? What about all the kids I didn’t get to that just blew off the test?

    3) I cannot reiterate enough, just because we don’t believe in high stakes testing does not mean we do not want to be evaluated.

    Do not conflate high stakes testing with evaluation.

  14. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 11/02/2011 - 09:44 pm.

    One last thing. Most people in highly cognitive fields are not motivated be rewards. We believe we deserve respect and pay commensurate with our education, but beyond that performance pay is a waste of money.

    For some reason the conservative mind thinks we are all Pavlovian dogs. People like Swifty think we are depressed because someone not as good as us might make more. On the flip side, they think we won’t work hard if we don’t have a materialistic reward at the end.

    All that kind of stuff works for menial tasks, but for highly creative and cognitive tasks it can actually be counter productive. Purpose not profit motivate skilled workers.

    That doesn’t mean we’ll do it for minimum wage though.

  15. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 11/04/2011 - 07:03 am.

    The debate over bad teachers ignores an equally big problem: there has been little effort to identify good ones, let alone reward them.

    Concrete examples to support your arguments would be beneficial. Instead, your hyperbole detracts from the matter at hand. You come off sounding similar to the Unabomber. Time for a manifesto. Why not simply rail against all that government says and does?

    A system does not get better without trying, and not all attempts are successful.

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