A Report Card on Teacher Evaluation

Nicole LaPierre '11 (ED), '12 MA, works with students in a classroom during her student teaching practice. Pierre is now an elementary teacher at Cider Hill School in Wilton, Conn. (Paul Horton for UConn)

Nicole LaPierre ’11 (ED), ’12 MA, works with students in a classroom during her student teaching practice. Pierre is now an elementary teacher at Cider Hill School in Wilton, Conn. (Paul Horton for UConn)

A recent report by UConn education researchers on Connecticut’s new System for Educator Evaluation and Development (SEED) has the potential to impact every public school student in the state.

“Teachers have been identified as the No. 1 school-level influence on students’ achievement,” says Morgaen Donaldson, assistant professor of educational leadership in the Neag School of Education. “That means for students to score high and reach their full potential, teachers need to score high and work to reach their full potential. So for parents, grandparents, and anyone connected with a child, our work evaluating the SEED program is helping ensure students get the high-quality teachers they need to succeed.”

For students to score high and reach their full potential, teachers need to score high and work to reach their full potential.

Mandated by the state General Assembly as part of aggressive legislation passed in 2012 to improve the quality of state schools and raise student achievement scores, the study was conducted by Donaldson and six other researchers from the Neag School’s Center for Education Policy Analysis. Among other results, it concludes that with additional administrative support and better-executed implementation, the SEED model has the potential for “even greater gains.”

Although teacher unions have criticized SEED for basing close to half of a teacher’s performance evaluation on their students’ performance, data gathered from the 14 school districts piloting the evaluation system during 2012-13 show that changes in mindset and practice are essential to the kind of teacher growth and improvement SEED was designed to achieve. These changes include:

  • Teachers spending more time on self-assessment and goal-setting;
  • Teachers more carefully considering how to best meet the individual needs and challenges of current students;
  • Principals and other administrators conducting more frequent classroom visits to observe teachers at work.

More than half of participating teachers and administrators rated their post-observation conferences to be “valuable” or “very valuable.” For both groups, however, the time needed to prepare and take part in rigorous observations, develop lesson plans tailored to individual students, and fulfill other SEED requirements was an issue. In addition, the time and funds required for much-needed professional development were cited in the report as an ongoing challenge.

Improvements recommended by Neag researchers include increased opportunities for teachers to learn about SEED; programs to build the skills and abilities of teacher evaluators; help with teacher goals setting; and a system for the state to continue to track and improve the program.

Additional resources needed

“I think it’s clear from our report that most districts will need added resources to carry out SEED, because even in districts with significant resources, teachers and administrators can be spread thin,” says Donaldson. “But the fact that behaviors were changing because of SEED is small but important evidence that shows what SEED can do. It’s going to be hard for educators to perform all that SEED expects without the necessary resources. But if those resources are made available, the impact on K-12 students can be huge. Better teacher performance will mean better student performance.”

While responses to the Neag researchers’ findings from education officials like American Federation of Teachers Connecticut President Melodie Peters have been cautiously neutral, Bridgeport Education Association President Gary Peluchette told the Connecticut Post his concern is that SEED focuses more on “chasing a test score than best practices.”

However, Connecticut Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor told the Hartford Courant that the Neag report gives “added confidence that the system has the potential to improve instruction for our students, and that the state can make implementation even better through continued and improved supports provided to teachers, schools, and districts. The fact that Neag researchers find there is potential for this system to lead to improvement in both teacher practice and student learning is profoundly important.”

Although many school districts are still figuring out how best to implement it, the SEED model went statewide at the start of the 2013-14 school year. Its process calls for teachers to be rated on a four-step scale as “exemplary,” “proficient,” “developing,” or “below standard.” In the pilot districts, 73 percent of teachers met criteria for “proficient” and 23 percent for “exemplary.”

The fact that Connecticut now has consistent, statewide evaluation standards for all public school teachers is one of the model’s biggest pluses, Donaldson says: “Between SEED and the introduction of the Common Core [State Standards], our school systems are going through huge, unprecedented changes. But if carried out well, the result of these ambitious reforms could be young people who are better educated and more skilled, and that really could make a difference in the future of our state, country, and world.”