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Teacher Accountability 2.0

By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist

The article: “Using Student Learning in Teacher Assessment” by Kim Marshall and Douglas Reeves in Edutopia, April 30, 2018,; Reeves can be reached at
In this Edutopia article, Kim Marshall and Douglas Reeves say there was good reason for the pushback on using student test scores, value-added measures (VAM), and student learning objectives (SLOs) as part of teacher evaluation. Among the problems, say Marshall and Reeves: “This year’s A teacher can be next year’s F teacher because of random variations that have nothing to do with teaching quality,” and test scores give few clues on how classroom instruction can be improved. These and other design flaws have contributed to the widespread consensus that the U.S. needs a different approach to teacher accountability. Fortunately, the 2016 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) opens the door for states to make better choices.
Two key questions should be at the center of accountability, say Marshall and Reeves: Are students learning? and How will educators respond when some students aren’t successful? But is it possible to put student results at the center of teacher assessment without using test scores? Yes, say the authors: by “dialing back the pressure and using lower-key measures of student learning throughout the year.” Here’s when and how:
• During frequent classroom visits – Dropping into each classroom for short, unannounced visits at least ten times a year, principals and other supervisors can look over students’ shoulders or sit down next to them and ask, “What are you learning today?” and “How will you know when you’re successful?” Insights from these informal conversations can be part of really helpful teacher-administrator conversations later in the day.
• Looking at student work after visits – Chatting in the teacher’s classroom when students aren’t there is an ideal way to get into learning outcomes – student writing, creations, exit tickets – in a non-threatening and highly productive way.
• During curriculum planning meetings – As teacher teams create curriculum units and assessments, administrators can make suggestions on ways to check for understanding during lessons, in tests, and through performance tasks – a proactive way of focusing on student learning: “Without high-quality assessments,” say Marshall and Reeves, “analysis of student learning will be unproductive.”
• During collaborative data meetings – When teams discuss the results of common assessments, administrators can join in and help make these meetings the engine for instructional improvement (which is not always the case). Again, the conversation is about student learning without high stakes, embedded in an ongoing conversation about helping students who aren’t yet successful and talking about the most successful teaching strategies.
• In teams’ value-added reports – Same-grade/same-subject teacher teams can set goals (for example, 100 percent of second graders reading at least on grade level by June) and at the end of the year report to the principal on student progress from the September baseline. The principal then notes the team’s accomplishments in each teacher’s individual performance evaluation.
This last item is the basic idea behind SLOs, conclude Marshall and Reeves, “but done at the team level with low-stakes, school-based accountability. By reporting before-and-after data within the same school year with the same teachers, there’s a much better chance that teams will set ambitious goals, use rigorous measures they respect, care about the results, use during-the-year data to improve instruction, spur each other on (especially team members who don’t seem to be pulling their weight), and at the end of the year take real pride and satisfaction in their collective gains in student learning. This fundamentally transforms accountability from a threatening and mysterious process into a credible reflection of the impact of teachers on their kids.”

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