New study validates efficacy of teacher evaluations

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Teacher evaluation programs play an important role in student learning and long-term student outcomes, according to a study released last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Mass.

The working paper evaluated IMPACT, an aggressive and controversial teacher evaluation and incentive program in D.C. that offers massive bonuses of up to $27,000 for the highest performing teachers and fires the lowest performers.

The study found that IMPACT caused more low-performing teachers to leave the school system than would have been expected otherwise. It also improved teaching quality among teachers with both strong and weak initial assessments, as measured by test scores and classroom observations.

“High-powered incentives linked to multiple indicators of teacher performance can substantially improve the measured performance of the teaching work force,” conclude the researchers, Thomas Dee of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education and James Wyckoff of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia.

The authors suggest that teacher evaluation programs serve to avoid career-long retention of low-performing teachers and boost the performance of those who do stick around.

Numerous other studies find that merit pay alone does not work, suggesting that IMPACT’s carrot and stick approach makes the difference.

That said, the IMPACT program is far more labor intensive and costly than most evaluation programs.  In it, teachers are evaluated in their classrooms five times a year, with bonus payments for high performers jumping from $3.2 million in 20010 to $8.1 million last year.  It has also been responsible for the terminations of more than 500 teachers.

“The academic impacts and life lessons of teachers extend far beyond the classroom,” said Patricia Levesque, executive director of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd). “It is important states have fair, strong and comprehensive teacher evaluation systems – ones that include student achievement measures – and this report reinforces that need.”