University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Teacher Evaluation Systems Under Common Core

In The View from the OEP on June 25, 2014 at 11:53 am

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have been in the news a lot lately, as many states are deciding to drop the standards entirely or to drop the assessments associated with CCSS. For the OEP’s overview of the Common Core, take a look at our June 2014 Arkansas Education Report on the Common Core Debate.common core logo Even for those states that seem committed to staying the course with CCSS, there is still debate about how transitioning to new (and most often, more rigorous) assessments will work within existing teacher evaluation and school-level accountability systems.

Big Changes in DC and NY?

Last week, Washington, DC and the state of New York announced they would not be using test scores under the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) as part of teacher evaluations. This is important, of course, as DC and New York are key actors in the education reform and teacher evaluation debates. Some are wondering whether this move represents a “backing off” on accountability, or just a more cautious move forward on the connection between teacher evaluation and student test scores.

The District of Columbia was one of the first districts in the country to use student test scores as part of teacher evaluation. Under the current system, put in place by the previous chancellor Michelle Rhee, test scores make up 35 percent of teacher evaluations in tested subjects. D.C. was often viewed as a pacesetter in the trend towards rigorous teacher evaluation. Current Chancellor Kaya Henderson says the districts wants to allow time for students to adjust to the new standards, but asserts D.C. plans to stay committed to assessing teachers in part on student test scores in the future.

DC was supposed to have its first year of full implementing teacher evaluations that include student growth in 2014-15, and New York’s first year of using student growth to inform personnel decisions was supposed to be 2014-15 as well.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo endorsed, and lawmakers recently passed a law to prevent teachers labeled as “ineffective” or “developing” from facing termination or denial of tenure based solely on test scores for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years.  The state saw sharply lower test scores on standardized tests last in the 2013-14 school year, and has decided to keep Common Core test scores off of student transcripts through 2018 to appease parents who were worried about the standards.

Easing into Evaluations?

According to the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), as of September 2013, 35 states and D.C. have or have passed laws establishing teacher evaluation systems that include student achievement as a significant factor in teachers’ ratings.  Only ten states (Alabama, California, Idaho, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Texas, and Vermont) didn’t require that test scores be a part of the evaluation process. In March 2014, NCTQ provided a timeline of teacher evaluation systems, by state, that include and count student growth.  Six states (California, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Vermont) still don’t have a policy in place to use student growth now or in the future. Various other states will start using teacher evaluations within the next three school years.

teacher evaluation map

The decision by New York and DC not to include student test scores in teacher evaluations is part of a wider “moratorium movement.” Even some of the most ardent proponents of the Common Core State Standards have expressed concern about using student test scores to inform personnel decisions. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently called for a two-year moratorium on using Common Core test scores to make high-stakes decisions such as teacher evaluations, joining the two largest teacher unions (the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers). The Gates Foundation strongly supports the CCSS and the aligned tests, has invested over $200 million in the standards, and is an “ardent supporter” of evaluation systems that include measure of student achievement and growth, but says the “standards need time to work.”

Federal Reaction

The Obama administration rejected the idea of a blanket moratorium for all states.  Dorie Nolt, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education, said these types of decisions should be made on a state-by-state basis.

Enhanced teacher evaluation systems were put into place in states across the country in response to Race to the Top (RTTT),  a $4.3 billion competition among states for education grants from the US Department of Education, and ESEA waivers, which granted flexibility to states to change their accountability systems from the original No Child Left Behind model. Both RTTT and ESEA waivers required teacher evaluations systems in order for states to be eligible for the funds associated with each program; for RTTT, it was for supplemental grant funding to fund new education reform initiatives and for ESEA waivers, it was to be eligible to receive Title I funding. Many have speculated that changes to teacher evaluation systems could result in the loss of these funds. However, last year, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced a plan to give states with ESEA waivers more flexibility in when they start using student growth data for high-stakes personnel decisions, allowing delays up to the 2016-17 school year. As for states with RTTT funds, an official with the U.S. Department of Education warned, by email, that the state risks losing up to $292 million of funding tied to the Race to the Top by removing student growth measures from teacher evaluations.  This warning, by Ann Whalen, is the first warning that RTTT funding may be on the line when considering whether or not to use student growth as part of teacher evaluations.

Bringing it Home to Arkansas

Arkansas did not win Race to the Top funds but currently has an ESEA Flexibliity waiver.  In order to be eligible for RTTT, Arkansas adopted a new teacher evaluation system, the Teacher Effectiveness and Support System (TESS), which includes the use of student growth in accountability. The 2014-15 school year will be the first year of full implementation of TESS, as well as the first year of full implementation of Common Core in Arkansas.  So the 2014-15 will be a big year for implementation of new education initiatives, with a new test through the consortium Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) based on the on the CCSS standards, as well as a new teacher evaluation system (TESS). While the first full year of TESS is 2014-15, it is important to note that Arkansas teachers identified as “ineffective” will only be subject to improvement plans and interventions based on TESS starting in 2015-16, and the first year that these evaluations must “inform personnel decisions” will be 2016-17.

arkansas timeline

Thus, in Arkansas, the adoption period is clearly gradual, and it will be a while before these new TESS teacher evaluations will have “teeth”. Because the most consequential decisions for teachers will not be made based on test scores until 2015-16 and 2016-17, we do not think a moratorium on using test scores is necessary to have a fair teacher evaluation system in Arkansas.





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