NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Teacher Evaluation Debate Full of Falsehoods

August 4, 2014

Identifying the best teachers is critical to education reform, and some form of teacher evaluation is necessary. Yet, the debate over evaluations has largely focused on student test scores and has been full of false information, explains Michael McShane, research fellow in education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. 

Teacher evaluations need reform. McShane uses California as an example: Only 2.2 percent of the 250,000 teachers in the state are fired each year, yet California scores significantly below the rest of the nation in math and reading.

Most teachers have opposed the use of student test scores in evaluating educator performance, and many who have heard the evaluation debate would believe that student test scores are the primary means by which teachers are evaluated today. In fact, that is far from true:

  • Rarely do test scores count for more than half of a teacher's evaluation.
  • Most states use three measures of evaluation: student test scores, classroom observations and other measures (such as attendance or graduation rates).
  • Washington, D.C. has been criticized for placing too much emphasis on test scores, yet only 35 percent of a teacher's evaluation is based on student test scores, while 50 percent is based on classroom observation. In Maryland, 20 percent is based on student test scores, and in West Virginia, the figure is 15 percent.

Additionally, many have charged that new teacher evaluation systems have led to large amounts of teachers being identified as ineffective, but this is not the case:

  • A 2009 report of 12 districts across four states found that less than 1 percent of teachers were rated as ineffective.
  • The numbers today remain close to that. Tennessee and Michigan each instituted new evaluation systems, and just 2 percent of teachers were found ineffective as a result.
  • Indiana and Florida also imposed new systems, resulting in ineffectiveness rates of 2 and 3 percent, respectively.

Perhaps most staggering of all, the vast majority of teachers cannot be evaluated by test scores at all. The No Child Left Behind law requires schools to give math and reading exams in third grade through eighth grade and at least one time in high school. Two-thirds of Florida and Tennessee teachers fall outside of this system, because they do not teach those grades or subjects. McShane writes that the numbers are similar across other states. 

Source: Michael Q. McShane, "Union freakouts are hurting the hunt for good teachers," Washington Post, July 31, 2014. 


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