Report: Teachers rated ‘effective’ may lag in student growth standard

Despite a quirk in scoring that could let some teachers be rated ‘effective’ even with poor student progress ratings, one Arizona educator said most teachers in the state really are effective. (Photo by Shelby Steward/Creative Commons)

WASHINGTON – Thirty states claim to consider student growth a “significant” factor in teacher evaluations, but a new study finds that evaluations in 28 of those states, including Arizona, “fail to live up to promises.”

The report by the National Council on Teacher Quality found that some teachers in Arizona who barely made the grade in terms of student progress are being rated “effective” because of the way the state’s ratings are structured.

“Unfortunately, the results have by and large remained the same as they were before a lot of these reforms were passed,” said Nithya Joseph, director of state policy at the council. “We looked at how student growth factored into a teacher’s overall teacher rating.”

An aide to Arizona Superintendent Diane Douglas said the office could not comment until it had seen the report.

But another educator in the state said that while it is possible “that some who are ineffective, are being labeled effective,” that case would be the exception and not the rule.

“Most of them are effective,” said Mark Joraanstad, the director of Arizona School Administrators.

He added that while at least one-third of teacher evaluations are supposed to be based on quantitative data on student academic progress – standardized test scores, for example – criteria can vary from district to district. In Arizona, individual schools, administrators and districts are responsible for determining how they will gauge educators’ performance.

State officials adopted the Arizona Framework for Measuring Educator Effectiveness in 2011, which included “quantitative data on student academic progress” as a factor.

The framework sets forth a 120-point scale: 60 points for teacher performance, 40 for student progress and 20 for surveys that are taken by students, teachers and peers, including a self-assessment.

Arizona teachers can be considered effective with a score of 85 or more, and “highly effective” at 108 points or above. Teachers are “developing” with a score of 60 and “ineffective” below that point.

-Cronkite News graphic by Kendra Penningroth

The study – “Running in Place: How New Teacher Evaluations Fail to Live Up to Promises” – noted that teachers could get as low as a 5 in the “student academic progress section” and still get an effective rating if they aced the other two categories.

“When it comes to the actual guidance or rules for a state for how to get a teacher’s final evaluation rating, the student growth component can mean actually very little,” Joseph said. “Oftentimes, as is the case with Arizona, you can score quite low on the student growth component and still be rated ‘effective’.”

Joraanstad said there can be too much reliance on the numbers, which cannot calculate the holistic value of a teacher in a classroom.

But at a time of teacher shortages, he said, there is also value in the evaluations, which can be used to pinpoint strengths that teachers should build on, or find other, more appropriate placements for a teacher.

He thinks educators are using the evaluation results to focus teacher training to improve the areas in which they struggle.

“No principal or school wants ineffective teachers teaching their students,” Joraanstad said.

Misty Arthur, the executive director of the Arizona Federation of Teachers, agreed with Joraanstad that the evaluations have their strengths and weaknesses. She said she does not think, for example, a teacher should be rated effective if they get a single-digit score on student progress.

But Arthur also said Arizona students are being “tested to death,” and that as a teacher of 17 years, she knows that her students really did not care about their standardized test scores. She remembers having to remind students that if they did not try their hardest, she may not be offered a teaching contract the following year.

Arthur thinks that teacher evaluations are too arbitrary, and that the politicians and administrators who require them are “too far removed” to be the people who decide how teachers are evaluated.

“Get actual educators, not their administrators, they will be honest,” Arthur said. “They (teachers) will be honest about what should and should not be evaluated.”