Giving Teachers the Feedback and Support they Deserve

In the last four years, thirty states have transformed their teacher evaluation systems to improve student outcomes—and fourteen more are expected to follow suit by 2017. Too often, however, states focus more on the design of the systems than on how schools will and should implement them. This report from Education First argues that this is a mistake. We ought to also provide teachers the feedback and support they need to succeed. The report identifies five districts (Aldine, Texas; Greene County, Tennessee; Salem-Keizer, Oregon; Fulton County, Georgia; and St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana) that seem to be doing this right—a collection that’s diverse enough in location, racial makeup, and student body size to be applicable to myriad locales across the country.

The authors pinpoint a handful of essential teacher evaluation practices that hold the promise to improve student outcomes. First, schools need to make feedback and support a top priority and treat it as an ongoing process, including regular conversations centered on teachers’ professional development goals. Educators must be an integral part of the process, which creates an environment in which feedback is an expected and positive aspect of the job rather than a punitive one. For example, teachers and evaluators (such as principals or other administrators) should work together to create a “personalized learning plan” based on specific strengths and weaknesses. This lets teachers know what they need to work on, guides their ongoing professional development, and can be used for future evaluations.

This all sounds great, but how will financially troubled districts find the necessary time and money to ensure effective implementation? To its credit, the report acknowledges this problem and gives a helpful—if not entirely complete—solution. It explains how all of the five districts reallocated Title I and Title II funds to cover the cost of hiring more teacher leaders, implementing improved training programs, and providing more and better professional development opportunities.

Overall, the report paints an optimistic picture of what school districts can do when it comes to teacher evaluations. The suggested practices should improve student outcomes if districts make them a priority.

SOURCE: “Giving Teachers the Feedback and Support They Deserve: Five Essential Practices,” Education First (May 2015).