How to evaluate teachers is a perennial question that is especially relevant now that ESSA has loosened requirements on state teacher evaluation systems. A recent U.S. Department of Education study examines whether increasing the frequency and detail of written and oral feedback offered to teachers and principals improves teaching practice and student achievement.

The authors studied math and English language arts teachers at sixty-three elementary and middle schools in eight large, primarily urban school districts. Each educator was observed four times a year for two years, once by a school administrator and three times by study-hired observers, followed up each time with an in-person conference, plus a written report with ratings and feedback. The system used to deliver this feedback differed, however, between districts. Four used the Classroom Assessment and Scoring System (CLASS) and four used Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching (FFT). Teachers also received annual student growth reports that included their value-added scores. Participating principals were evaluated based on twice-yearly teacher surveys examining their instructional leadership and teacher-principal trust.

Both teachers and principals reported finding the feedback more helpful than previous district feedback. A majority of principals described it as more practical and objective, and most teachers found it more specific and useful but also more critical than their district’s, even though more than half the educators received high marks in the study. Participants were less enthusiastic about the value-added growth reports: Only 48 percent of teachers and 74 percent of principals agreed that the value-added score was a good measure of student learning.

The feedback-delivery system also made a difference. When researchers videotaped and analyzed lessons to see how teachers’ practice changed, they found that educators in districts using CLASS improved by 7 percentile points on that rating scale, but found no effect in those employing FFT. Moreover, both helped to identify principals and teachers who needed support, but neither system reliably identified specific areas for improvement.

The interventions also had a limited effect on student achievement. They caused a statistically significant increase in math scores in the first year of the study but not the second, and they did not affect English language arts outcomes at all. There was, however, a positive correlation between achievement in both subjects and classroom lessons that CLASS and FFT rated highly.

In sum, the study’s elaborate observation and feedback systems were expensive and time-consuming, yet produced little effect on student achievement or teaching practices. However, the positive effects on teaching practice under the CLASS metric and the improvement in first-year math scores show that such systems have potential. Clearly, further work is needed to develop observation systems that provide useful feedback and consistent results at a sustainable cost.

SOURCE: Michael S. Garet, et al., “ The Impact of Providing Performance Feedback to Teachers and Principals,” U.S. Department of Education (2017).

Emily Howell was a research intern at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and had been pursuing a master’s degree in education policy at The George Washington University. She has a bachelor's degree in English from Yale University, and before returning to school she taught middle school in San Antonio, TX, and Washington, DC, in both charter and traditional public schools. Her research interests include school climate, teacher…

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