All students deserve a high quality teacher in their classroom. Throughout the history of schooling in the United States, teachers have served as the providers of the information students learn, and it has been widely said that a quality teacher is the most important in-school factor affecting student achievement. Since at least the 1800s teacher evaluation has been used in some form to help understand teacher performance, but it is critical that these evaluations be used correctly and effectively.
Teacher evaluations can be used for two main purposes. Formative evaluations are used to improve teaching through feedback on performance and finding corresponding professional development. Summative evaluations are used to support employment decisions such as salary, tenure, and dismissals. Both are needed in order to properly assess how a teacher is performing and how to address areas of need (or areas to reward for success). However, over two-thirds of states made changes to their teacher evaluation laws since 2009, making student growth data a “significant factor” in evaluation.
Research indicates that student achievement data itself does not provide adequate information to improve teacher practice and should not be used for employment decisions, but many of the new laws have done just that. These test scores are not being used to guide interventions, so the impact of these reforms is extremely limited. Standardized test results are used mainly as a point value in an appraisal resulting in high-stakes decisions, such as salary changes and the possible firing of teachers. Teachers receive little actionable information or guidance about how these test results can improve their teaching quality. Other countries give greater weight to using performance data to guide intervention, reveal best practices and identify shared problems, while in the U.S. performance data are often used for purely accountability purposes.
An effective accountability system is a quality present in all countries with high-performing education systems. True professional accountability systems hold teachers accountable to their principals and to other teachers—those who know and understand what the teacher does every day. In Ontario, for instance, teachers are partners and work together to improve their practice. Similarly, Japanese teachers employ lesson study, a method used throughout their careers to design, practice, and improve lessons and teaching strategies. Some countries successfully combine professional accountability and administrative accountability. But tests are used in combination with other measures, and evaluations are used to reward or improve teaching—not to punish or fire teachers.
Current teacher evaluation systems have changed how teachers spend their time. Teachers in this country already spend more time in the classroom than teachers in other countries who get more time to collaborate and lesson plan. Now, teachers must spend more time on test prep to ensure their students score well since that is a significant factor in their evaluations. Teachers also must spend their collaborative time scoring and looking over student data rather than talking about students and instruction. This means teachers have less time to have meaningful professional conversations with colleagues and less opportunity to support and develop relationships with students.
 Haertel, E. (2013). Reliability and Validity of Inferences about Teachers Based on Student Test Scores, Stanford University, Angoff Memorial Lecture, https://www.ets.org/s/pdf/23497_Angoff%20Report-web.pdf.
 Mathers, C., Oliva, M., & Laine, S. (2008). Improving Instruction through Effective Teacher Evaluation: Options for States and Districts. TQ Research & Policy Brief, http://www.gtlcenter.org/sites/default/files/docs/February2008Brief.pdf.
 Haertel, E. (2013).
 OECD (2013). Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education: Lessons from PISA 2012 for the United States, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264207585-en.
 OECD, Strong Performers and Successful Reformers.
 Network for Public Education (2016). Teachers Talk back: Educators on the Impact of Teacher Evaluation, https://networkforpubliceducation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/NPETeacherEvalReport.pdf.