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Evaluating Teacher Evaluation

October 25, 2013

In the past two years, the quality of teacher education programs has been repeatedly called into question, and a federal panel could not come to a consensus on the role students’ test scores should have on teachers’ evaluations.

A report released today by the National Academy of Education suggests that more emphasis should be placed on designing evaluations of teacher training programs. Current approaches to evaluating teaching programs are “complex, varied, and fragmented,” the report said.

“In order to be constructively critical of teaching programs and teachers' education, one needs to be more confident that we have the right kinds of question and mechanisms to answer these questions,” said Michael J. Feuer, dean of the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at George Washington University and a co-author of the report.

Evaluation programs should be developed thoughtfully and with caution, he said. If an evaluation has high-stakes consequences, undue attention may be placed on the variables measured. For example, if an evaluation model relies on the contents of course syllabi, program leaders could be tempted to exaggerate a course’s teachings in the syllabus.

Teaching preparation programs are evaluated by the federal government, national nongovernmental accrediting bodies, state governments, media outlets and other independent organizations and the teaching preparation programs themselves. Some evaluation methods are created to hold teaching programs accountable; others to provide information to prospect students and employers.

For example, the federal Higher Education Act seeks to require states to compile data and identify low-performing programs, and the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation has issued revised accrediting standards that focus on student outcomes.

This summer, a study released by the National Council on Teacher Quality said the majority of teacher preparation programs were ineffective in preparing students to lead classrooms. Prospective teachers are not learning the appropriate content to teach, or how to teach the material, according to the report. Of 1,200 elementary and secondary teaching preparation programs ranked in the NCTQ report, 163 programs received less than one star out of four stars. 

The report from the National Academy of Education, a nonpartisan education research organization, cautioned that while program evaluation is important, “it is not sufficient in itself to bring about improvements in teacher preparation, teaching quality, and student learning.” The limitations of an evaluation system should be weighed against its potential benefits. An evaluation system that focuses on the SAT or ACT scores of entering students would be unfair to institutions whose purpose is to serve students who may not have had the best prior education, said Robert E. Floden, a co-author of the report.  

In September, the Education Trust, a group that advocates for low-income students, released a report urging the federal government to prod states to better measure college teacher education programs.   

 

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