ESSA: Are you prepared for a change in the way you evaluate teachers?

By Dr. Lisa Andrejko
PeopleAdmin Strategic Advisor,
Former superintendent, principal, teacher

If anything, those of us who work in K-12 education are flexible. Since K-12 education is highly regulated and dependent on what at times appears to be the whims of our elected officials, we understand that change is one of the few constants in the profession. Every few years — especially during election seasons — the rules of our game are altered. Our current test in adapting to change will be the shift from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

In December, President Obama signed into law the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The primary focus of ESSA is the shift from federal oversight of education initiatives (think Common Core, Race to the Top, etc.) back to state-level programs. The financial incentives for states to implement federal education policies have been scaled back, leaving education policy decisions to be made by the state, and at times, local policymakers. What does this mean for you as an administrator with oversight of teacher evaluation?

Although ESSA still requires the state testing system provide data for teacher evaluations, the new law does not require states to set up teacher evaluation systems based on test scores. However, with so much time and effort undertaken at the state level in the implementation of accountability measures such as Student Learning Objective (SLOs), prescribed teaching standard frameworks or rubrics, and student achievement data, I cannot imagine a scenario in which states would abandon their new methods for grading teachers. Will there be revisions? Yes, because change is something we can count on!

States such as New York, Oklahoma and South Carolina have already begun to reconsider teacher evaluation. Most other states are keeping the status quo to take the time to review what is currently working and what needs modification. Most state systems were messy and created, in part, to qualify for funds from Race to the Top. The effectiveness of such systems has not been proven. The focus on test scores proved to be highly unpopular with teachers and in fact, unfair, prompting lawsuits. There is volatility in the uses of student scores, and some cases where teachers had been rated on the scores of students they did not teach. Will we retreat back to all teachers being rated satisfactory without consideration of their impact on student achievement? Highly unlikely.

Education Week earlier this month reported that some states are committed to improving teacher evaluation, but they want far less rigid approaches. South Carolina will be requesting a two-year delay from the required SLOs and would like to consider using artifact evidence of quality. Other states, such as Georgia, may consider revising the percentage of student achievement data that makes up the evaluation.

President Obama - ESSA

Oklahoma districts have struggled to implement student-growth measures for teachers in non-tested subjects and is considering student survey results instead. New York is dealing with a high rate of student testing opt-outs which question validity. Keep in mind that in most states, changes to teacher evaluation has been legislated. While departments of education have some discretion in implementation, major changes will require legislation. It will be difficult for legislators who campaigned on accountability to say, “Never mind!”

So the question for school administrators once again is, “Are you prepared for change?” In looking at your teacher evaluation model and the technology used to support and enhance the process, are you poised to revise and adapt to meet new regulations from your state? My hope is that you look at teacher supervision and evaluation as the means to improve teaching and learning, not only as a compliance issue. Visionary leaders use the “rules” to change behavior. Ask yourself the following:

  • Are you confusing supervision and evaluation? Supervision is ongoing and supportive, while mandated evaluation is a snapshot of performance at a given time. Which is more effective in improving teaching and learning?
  • Are you more concerned with “checking the boxes” in the rubric or gathering data for teachers to use in the review of their own performance?
  • Is your evaluation “one size fits all?” Can you use your state regulations to maximize talent, differentiate between professionals and focus administrative time on teachers who need support?
  • Are you using formative data to produce a summative rating or has the observation become the evaluation? (More on this in a future blog post!)
  • Is evaluation a process or a product?
  • Does your evaluation system provide you with the needed data to plan for meaningful professional development?
  • Does your technology enlist the employee as an active participant or a compliant bystander in the evaluation process?

As we all wait for the next change to come, prepare by beginning with the end in mind. Focus on what you want to gain from an excellent teacher supervision, evaluation, professional development model and use the “rules” to insure that is what happens.

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