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What's the best way to grade a teacher?

Posted at 8:27 AM, Oct 01, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-01 08:27:45-04

CINCINNATI – People across the political spectrum support rating teachers as an important part of getting kids a good education.

But who is doing a good job at producing meaningful ratings? 

WCPO quizzed education advocates on the right and left of the political spectrum, and they pointed to innovative systems in Tennessee, Denver and Pittsburgh.

"The best practice there is includes involving teachers in the solution," said Stephen Dyer, a former Democratic state representative who now pushes for progressive education reform at Innovation Ohio.

"Denver has spent years doing one with teachers to come up with something that has meaning," he said.

Denver started a pilot program of its LEAP evaluation system with a handful of schools in 2011 and has now expanded it to nearly all of them. The program replaced the previous system that either rated teachers satisfactory or unsatisfactory on a scale of 1 to 7.

Teachers are evaluated in four ways:

Observation: Peers and school leaders watch teachers in action in the classroom
Professionalism, measured by each teacher's contributions outside of instructional time
Student feedback through surveys
Student performance on state tests and by other measures of progress

The five-year high school graduation rate has risen every school year since 2009-10 from 58.5 percent to 67.9 percent in 2013-14, the most recent data available.

Dyer said the key to Denver's successful system is substantive input from teachers. "If you look at places like Denver and others that have done that you'll see there's more effective buy-in," he said.

Tennessee moved aggressively in 2010 and 2011 to implement new standards that focused largely on student outcomes to measure how well teachers were doing.

Test scores for elementary students indicate progress in math, reading and science every school year since 2009-2010. High school scores were more mixed, with annual progress in algebra 1, algebra 2, English 3 and biology but a drop in English 2. Tennessee also had the fastest growth in the nation in achievement as measured by the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) in 2013, the most recent data available.

In Pittsburgh, administrators, lawmakers and unions collaborated to win more than $60 million in grants to implement a pilot program for a new kind of evaluation system.

Some of the big changes:

• Teacher tenure is tied to effective practices as well as seniority
• The best teachers can teach smaller course loads while training other teachers
• Better data collection helps leaders identify how many of the most effective teachers are staying on the job and how many are leaving
• The Promise Readiness Corps gives teachers bonus pay to follow their 9th grade students into 10th grade to foster continuity and better grades

The district's high school graduation rate has jumped to 77.4 percent in 2013 from 68.5 percent in 2011.

"It weeds out ineffective teachers while creating rewards for highly effective ones," said Aaron Churchill, Ohio research director at the Fordham Foundation, a conservative education advocate.

Kendra Phelps, who represents the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers working on teacher evaluations with the Cincinnati Public Schools, said that CPS' system is also effective thanks to good collaboration among administrators and teachers.

"I believe that, looking at student growth in our district, we have a history of coming together and looking at student growth based on data of how our students are doing. That data is more than one data point (of state testing)," she said.

Phelps said the best teacher evaluation systems are home grown and not dictated by the state. "The state should have some best practices and guidance, but I think that local districts should come together and make evaluation systems that measure that," she said. "In Cincinnati, we meet with teacher leaders to make sure we have components that are encouraging improvements and not just compliance."

CPS, for its part, has also seen a climb in graduation rates – from 51 percent in 2000 to 74 percent in 2014.