A new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality has some words of encouragement – as well as a warning about potential inequities – for states that are changing the rules for teacher evaluation.

Illinois is one of 33 states that have changed teacher evaluation policies since 2009, according to “State of the States: Trends and Early Lessons on Teacher Evaluation and Effectiveness Policies.” But identifying the best teachers without a plan to make sure they are distributed fairly among schools could actually reinforce systemic inequality in schools, the report notes.

 “As we identify who the most effective teachers are, it might make it even easier for them to be snatched up by places with more resources,” says National Council on Teacher Quality Vice President Sandi Jacobs.

The report comes on the heels of the state Performance Evaluation Advisory Council’s consideration Friday of changes to principal and teacher evaluations. The council endorsed recommendations, but tabled the most controversial—the draft guidelines on using student growth in test scores—because the state is still holding public forums to get feedback on the issue.

Next, the recommendations will be sent to the Illinois State Board of Education, which will use them to craft new rules governing how teachers are assessed.

The rules will also act as a tiebreaker for any parts of the model for incorporating test scores that teachers and district administrators can’t agree on. That will not apply in Chicago, though, where the district will be able to implement the last offer it gives the Chicago Teachers Union even if the union doesn’t agree to it.

Last week, one Chicago advocate for special education students raised concerns about how the rules will affect those students.

Among the recommendations:

*Probationary teachers must have at least three observations, including two formal ones, each year; tenured teachers who are being evaluated – which doesn’t necessarily happen every year – must be observed at least twice, one time formally.

*Student achievement growth must make up at least 30 percent of a teacher’s rating. Districts will be able to choose to measure growth with either two assessments picked by the teacher, with district approval; or by using one assessment picked by the teacher and a second, standardized assessment like the Scantron assessment or a district-wide test.

*The state’s tiebreaker model would involve teacher observations using the Charlotte Danielson “Framework for Teaching,” which would account for 50 percent of a teacher’s score. The other half would be determined by students’ achievement growth. If a district and teachers become locked in a dispute about which test to use, a state committee will decide on the test.

As for principals, the state would require them to be observed at least twice a year and complete a self-assessment. Measures of their practice, including the observation, would comprise at least 50 percent of their score.  

Test score growth would account for at least 30 percent of their rating, measured by standardized or district-wide tests.

Council: Not all changes go far enough

While the National Council on Teacher Quality report praised the fact that many more states are now including student performance as a measure of teacher evaluation, it noted that many, including Illinois, don’t yet require annual evaluations for all teachers, and that just 13 states require growth to be the preponderant factor, which means that teachers can’t get a positive rating unless there’s evidence of increased student achievement.

Though Illinois is ahead of many other states – it was one of 17 singled out in the report for giving student achievement “a significant, objective, meaningful and measurable role” in teacher evaluation – it is lacking in both categories, according to the council’s analysis.

The report recommends that districts use outside evaluators to corroborate principals’ judgment of teachers. It also takes a stand against parent notification laws, saying that ineffective teachers should be given assistance or fired instead of subjected to humiliation.

But Jacobs defends the use of value-added measures, in combination with other data, to make other high-stakes decisions.

“Teacher effectiveness measures don’t have to be perfect, to be useful. Inside the school building, nothing matters more toward student success,” she says. “The thing to keep in mind is how unsatisfactory the systems we’ve been using have been.”

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