Improving Teacher Effectiveness

Taking Note FEBRUARY 2011 Examining Key Education Reform Ideas in Tennessee Improving Teacher Effectiveness: Tennessee’s Recent Progress and Future Opportunities Research has shown that teachers are the most important factor in determining how much a student learns and that there is great variability in the quality of individual teachers.i For example, while some teachers in Tennessee consistently improve their students’ performance several grade levels in a single year, other teachers only improve their students’ performance two-thirds of a grade level in a single year.ii It is critical that Tennessee focus on improving the effectiveness of its teachers.1 To that end, this memo discusses four strategies for improving teacher effectiveness, summarizes the state’s history and recent progress on each of these strategies, and highlights best practices from other states that Tennessee might consider adopting to further improve teacher effectiveness. Evidence on What Works Research has shown there are four key strategies for improving teacher effectiveness. The first strategy – and the strategy on which the other three are built – is differentiating teachers. Teachers come into the classroom with different skill sets, knowledge, and abilities, and it is critical to be able to identify those differences.iii The best way to differentiate teachers is to work with teachers to create an evaluation system based on multiple measures, such as classroom observations and student achievement data. To be effective, this evaluation system must be well understood and respected by teachers and principals and accurately identify individual teacher’s strengths and weaknesses.iv A second strategy – and arguably the most important strategy – for improving teacher effectiveness is supporting all teachers in constantly improving their instructional methods by providing them with meaningful professional development. Research has shown that teachers improve the most when they are provided with tailored professional learning opportunities that are adapted to their individual strengths and weaknesses and focused on the subject matter they teach.v Teachers especially benefit from consistently having the opportunity to spend time planning and collaborating with other teachers, and new teachers in particular benefit from receiving structured mentoring from veteran A third strategy for improving teacher effectiveness is rewarding highly effective teachers. As mentioned above, there are many teachers who are consistently improving their students’ performance several grade levels in a single year.vii It is imperative that these teachers be rewarded For the purposes of this memo, teacher effectiveness is defined as a teacher’s ability to improve his or her classes in ways that research has shown are highly correlated with increased student learning. 1 so that they have the opportunity to impact as many students as possible, whether it be teaching more challenging groups of students or serving as a mentor or instructional coach to other teachers. A fourth and final strategy for improving teacher effectiveness is removing the least effective teachers from the classroom. Research has shown that removing the bottom 5% of teachers from the classroom and replacing them with new teachers improves student achievement by 20% of a year’s worth of learning. [viii] However, since research has shown teachers can significantly improve their instructional practices over time, it is critical that teachers be provided with targeted professional development and support before being removed from the classroom.ix Tennessee’s Broken System Tennessee’s education system has failed to effectively pursue each of the four strategies outlined above. First, Tennessee’s system has failed to effectively differentiate teachers. Tennessee’s current teacher evaluation system gives teachers one of two performance ratings: “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.” Approximately 99% of teachers receive a “satisfactory” rating, making it essentially impossible to differentiate teachers using these evaluations.x Even more concerning, a recent survey by the Tennessee Board of Education found that just under half of Tennessee teachers thought the state’s current evaluation system had little or no value in differentiating teachers’ strengths and weaknesses.xi By contrast, the Tennessee Value Added Assessment System (TVAAS), which measures how effective individual teachers are at improving student achievement in a given year, shows a much wider variation in teacher effectiveness (see chart on the next page).xii Although TVAAS may not be perfect, it does serve as a better method for differentiating teachers than Tennessee’s current evaluation system. Second, Tennessee’s education system has historically failed to provide teachers with targeted professional learning opportunities that can help teachers improve their instructional practices. For example, although research has found that teachers need at least 15 professional development experiences in a single year to significantly improve their instructional practices, a majority of Tennessee teachers report having less than six professional development experiences in the past year, with nearly two percent reporting no professional development experiences.xiii Moreover, a recent survey conducted by the Tennessee Department of Education found that less than half of Tennessee 1207 18th Avenue South, Suite 326, Nashville, TN 37212 — tel 615.727.1545 — fax 615.727.1569 —