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Teacher Evaluations Should Include Students' Test Scores, Researchers Say

Unions often help determine criteria for evaluating teachers

Updated at 6:02 p.m. on June 2, 2011.

The quality of teaching would improve if local school districts included students' test scores and grades teacher evaluations, according to a report released Thursday.

California law sets out general guidelines for teacher evaluations, but local school districts vary widely as far as the criteria and rating they use to measure teacher performance. Researchers for the Mountain View-based think tank EdSource recommended that districts tailor teacher evaluations to meet the educational goals of their school districts, which could vary depending on student demographics.

“One of the lessons from our report is that teacher evaluations must be overhauled on a local level,” said Mary Perry, EdSource’s deputy director. “Teacher evaluations are not as helpful as they should be because they are often too vague, and don’t provide useful feedback.”

The 21-page report was based on a comprehensive literature review and interviews with nearly a dozen leaders representing the state’s various education concerns, including the powerful California Teachers Association and the Association of California School Administrators.

Among the study’s other findings:

- Some student achievement data, including tests scores and grades, should be factored into teacher evaluations.

- Teachers should be evaluated more frequently

- Teacher should receive more incisive feedback on their performance

But in San Francisco, not all local officials appear to be on board with the report’s recommendations.

“I am not in favor of saying that I would include student tests in teacher evaluations,” said Dennis Kelly, president of United Educators of San Francisco. In previous interviews, Kelly has said that teachers should not be penalized for factors beyond their control affecting student achievement, such as parental involvement and income.

Factoring student test data into teacher evaluations can be problematic, teachers say.

“When you use student test scores, that doesn’t measure teacher effectiveness,” Eric Heins, vice president-elect of the California Teachers Association, which represents roughly 295,000 teachers statewide. “The tests were not designed to do that. Plus, sometimes administrators try to balance classrooms with students from various backgrounds and achievement levels.”

Some school districts say they want to improve teacher evaluations, but have not been able to get support from labor unions and administrators.

“There is a need for great improvement in evaluations to make them more meaningful,” said Sherry Griffith, a legislative advocate for the Association of California School Administrators, which represents 15,000 superintendents, principals and other administrators statewide. “Where it’s challenging is, 'Can we bargain some of these standards into evaluations?' I think we can, but the student achievement piece is perhaps more challenging in some places.”

The criteria for teacher evaluations are determined during negotiations between districts and teacher unions. 

The overwhelming majority of teachers in districts like San Francisco Unified receive satisfactory ratings on their evaluations.

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