Student Growth Tied to Teacher Evaluations in Chicago

Blogs, Letters & Testimonials

September 26, 2013

By Rebeca Nieves Huffman, DFER-IL State Director

The old saying “what gets measured, gets improved” makes a lot of sense, especially when it comes to teacher performance. Three years ago Illinois joined the ranks of states with legislation mandating teacher evaluations based on a combination of student performance levels and the close examination of teacher practice. Last week Chicago Public Schools (CPS) became the largest school district to implement this rigorous measurement of teacher effectiveness, in an attempt to gain a more accurate understanding of how well teachers are serving students.

On September 17th CPS released the results for the first round of evaluations, which covered an estimated 4,200 non-tenured teachers. (Additional evaluations of tenured teachers will take place in the next two years as part of a phased in process.) This marked the first time that teacher evaluations were based in part on student test scores in the state. Despite dire predictions from opponents, results for the 2012-2013 school year were not that different from previous years. Among the non-tenured teachers assessed under the new evaluation system, those earning the district’s two highest ratings—excellent and proficient—dropped from 60 percent to 57.6 percent. With evaluations for 15,000 tenured teachers planned over the next two years, CPS should see fewer tenured teachers rated in the top category (excellent) and more classified as proficient or developing. Once evaluations systems are fully implemented for all teachers, regardless of tenure status, we will be able to better determine which teachers are leading the way to student success, and help structure support for teachers who need improvement.

Under the previous evaluation system more than 90 percent of tenured teachers were rated excellent or proficient, yet students across the district were failing! The 40-year-old standards led to a clear disconnect between perceived teacher performance and actual student achievement. But this is likely to change with the new system in place. CPS CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett has said the focus of the new evaluation system is on professional development and improving the quality of education for all students.

Things are looking up for Chicago’s kids, but we’re not out of the weeds yet. The system still has some areas where improvements can be made according to The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research. The organization released findings last week from a survey of teachers and administrators on the new evaluations process, showing what seems to be working and where there are opportunities for growth. According to the survey, teachers and administrators believe the new system has promoted teacher growth and instructional improvement, but some administrators feel as though they have a weak to moderate understanding of how to determine the final rating and—despite student growth only accounting for 25 percent of teacher evaluations—many thought their evaluations were contingent on test scores. Clearly, more communication needs to happen to ensure everyone understands the system.

Regardless of a few kinks that still need to be ironed out, we need to always remember “What gets measured does improve,” and we don’t have a minute to waste to make the system better. Now if we could just make progress on school funding reform…

For the last 10 years, Rebeca has worked across the country for organizations with national scopes and local reach into many states, so she is thrilled to apply her national experience in her home turf as the Illinois State Director of Democrats for Education Reform. Read more about Rebeca here.