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How Can Teacher Evaluation Systems Support Professional Growth?

West | December 19, 2023

For more than a decade, teacher evaluation systems have been used to serve dual purposes: assessing teacher accountability and informing development opportunities. Evidence of gains from teacher evaluation systems that support professional growth does exist. Through its Ask an Expert service, REL West reviewed some of the most recent, relevant research in this area for a school district. REL West identified three themes—each of which has implications for designing and implementing teacher evaluation systems that support professional growth.

  1. A Focus on Helping Teachers Improve
    In order for teacher evaluation systems to support professional growth, they need to be designed to do so, and certain conditions must exist to enable them to be effective.
    • Leadership practices linking teacher evaluation to professional learning opportunities might be inhibited if schools cannot access adequate professional learning resources purposefully tied to the aspects of teacher performance assessed by classroom observation rubrics. Thus, policymakers might take steps to ensure that such professional learning systems exist.1
    • The authors of a study of teachers’ perceptions of evaluation feedback suggest that states and districts looking to promote teacher development through their evaluation systems should carefully consider the alignment between their stated goals, system design, and resource investments. States and districts that fail to invest in creating the systems and conditions that facilitate high-quality evaluation feedback are unlikely to succeed in promoting teacher development through the evaluation process.2
    • A research synthesis suggests that gains from growth supports occurred in contexts where there were financial and time resource commitments to observe teachers regularly, hold post-observation conferences, share written and verbal feedback, and identify specific areas for skill development.3
  2. Specific Feedback Based on Observations
    Observations and “scores” alone are unlikely to be perceived as useful—let alone lead to improvements in teachers’ practice—if they aren’t followed with feedback that is delivered in a constructive manner and specifies what changes need to be made.
    • Based on a review of six teacher evaluation systems, observations tied to specific feedback improved teacher performance when all teachers, regardless of tenure, were observed both informally and formally, and annually at minimum.4
    • Studies that included analyses of teacher survey and interview data suggest that the specificity of the feedback was positively associated with job satisfaction, motivation, and teacher efficacy, which increased the likelihood of teacher engagement in the professional development process.5
    • In a qualitative case study in a district working on developing a system of supervision and evaluation to support teacher effectiveness, results from teacher interviews suggest that teachers perceive “actionable” feedback—feedback that provides clear guidance on how teachers can immediately shift their teaching practices—as most useful.6
    • Through a multi-informant assessment designed to measure teachers’ and school administrators’ experiences with teacher evaluation, teachers identified working collaboratively with their evaluators and receiving constructive, clear, and specific feedback as the most helpful aspects of the evaluation process.7
    • In a study of teachers’ perceptions of evaluation feedback, teachers reported that feedback from evaluators was more impactful when the evaluator providing the feedback had more experience and longer tenure at the school.8
  3. Access to Coaches and Mentors with Expertise in Areas of Improvement
    Engaging in improvement efforts based on feedback requires access to individualized coaching and mentoring in improvement areas identified through observations.
    • Results from a randomized controlled trial found that individualized coaching provided in response to formative teacher observations led to improvements in classroom practice.9
    • An analysis of teacher questionnaire results and observation scores suggest that providing teachers with access to school-based experts on their areas of improvement and time to engage with those experts are associated with improved teacher evaluation scores.10
    • Findings of an experimental study and an analysis of teacher questionnaire results and observation scores suggest that students of low-performing teachers saw greater academic gains when their teacher was paired with a mentor with expertise in their areas of improvement.11

Local education agencies (LEAs) looking to better support teachers’ professional growth through evaluation can use this research to inform adjustments to their systems. LEAs may want to consider these questions as they make that shift:

  • What aspects of the current teacher evaluation system support growth?
    • What resources are available to support implementation of those aspects of the system? What other resources might be needed?
  • How and when do evaluators give teachers feedback?
    • How are evaluators prepared to give teachers feedback?
    • How are teachers involved in determining areas for growth?
    • How are professional learning opportunities aligned to teachers’ needs based on evaluator feedback?
  • How are coaches and mentors selected and supported?
  • How do teachers provide feedback to and learn from one another?

1 Hunter, S. B. (2022). High-leverage teacher evaluation practices for instructional improvement. Educational Management Administration & Leadership. https://doi.org/10.1177/17411432221112995

2 Kraft, M. A., & Christian, A. (2022). Can teacher evaluation systems produce high-quality feedback? An administrator training field experiment. American Educational Research Journal, 59(3), 500–537. https://doi.org/10.3102/00028312211024603

3 Liebowitz, D. D. (2022). Teacher evaluation for growth and accountability: Under what conditions does it improve student outcomes? Harvard Educational Review, 92(4), 533–565. https://doi.org/10.17763/1943-5045-92.4.533

4 Putman, H., Ross, E., & Walsh, K. (2018). Making a difference: Six places where teacher evaluation systems are getting results. National Council on Teacher Quality. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED590763

5 Ford, T. G., Urick, A., & Wilson, A. S. P. (2018). Exploring the effect of supportive teacher evaluation experiences on U.S. teachers’ job satisfaction. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 26, 59. https://doi.org/10.14507/epaa.26.3559

6 Donahue, E., & Vogel, L. R. (2018). Teacher perceptions of the impact of an evaluation system on classroom instructional practices. Journal of School Leadership, 28(1), 31–55. https://doi.org/10.1177/105268461802800102

7 Reddy, L. A., Dudek, C. M., Peters, S., Alperin, A., Kettler, R. J., & Kurz, A. (2018). Teachers’ and school administrators’ attitudes and beliefs of teacher evaluation: A preliminary investigation of high poverty school districts. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 30, 47–70. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11092-017-9263-3

8 Kraft, M. A., & Christian, A. (2022). Can teacher evaluation systems produce high-quality feedback? An administrator training field experiment. American Educational Research Journal, 59(3), 500–537. https://doi.org/10.3102/00028312211024603

9 Dudek, C. M., Reddy, L. A., Lekwa, A., Hua, A. N., & Fabiano, G. A. (2018). Improving universal classroom practices through teacher formative assessment and coaching. Assessment for Effective Intervention, 44(2), 81–94. https://doi.org/10.1177/1534508418772919

10 Hunter, S. B. (2022). High-leverage teacher evaluation practices for instructional improvement. Educational Management Administration & Leadership. https://doi.org/10.1177/17411432221112995

11 Papay, J., Taylor, E., Tyler, J., & Laski, M. (2020). Learning job skills from colleagues at work: Evidence from a field experiment using teacher performance data. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 12, 359-388. http://doi/org/10.1257/pol.20170709

Author(s)

Anne Porterfield

Anne Porterfield

Caitlin Beatson

Caitlin Beatson

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