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Will teacher evaluations tied to student test scores falter?

By: Caroline Wynne Date: October 8, 2015


The Obama administration announced in 2011 it would award waivers under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) to states that agreed to adopt certain education initiatives, such as tying teacher evaluations to student test scores. In exchange, states would get flexibility from some of the core tenets of the law, such as the requirement that 100 percent of students be proficient in math and reading by 2014.

The administration initially made a strict push for test-based teacher accountability, for example, Washington state lost its waiver last year after it failed to link teacher evaluations to new state tests.

More recently there has been a policy shift with the U.S. Department of Education offering states more and more flexibility when it comes to getting evaluations aligned to statewide tests. Arkansas and Massachusetts received waiver-renewal letters with an extended implementation timeline of the 2017-18 school year.

What does the future of teacher evaluation look like? Will teacher evaluation remain a core part of the administration’s waiver requirements?

Neither of the proposed revisions to the NCLB law currently under debate in Congress include language that would continue to link teacher accountability to state testing, making it unclear how many states and districts will continue with the policy after 2016.

At least a dozen states have been given until the 2016-17 school year to transition their evaluation systems to use state tests aligned to the common core or other standards fully in place. With the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s recent departure announcement it remains to be seen whether states will be held accountable to these deadlines.

Mary Kusler, the director of government relations for the National Education Association, thinks Duncan’s decision could increase urgency of a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) on which NCLB is derived.

In their efforts to urge Congress for ESEA reauthorization, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) outlines four key priorities, including the need to address assessments, accountability, evaluations, and funding and flexibility. Under evaluations, states would have the responsibility and flexibility to design and improve teacher and principal evaluation systems. States would have the option to use federal funds for development and implementation of their systems.

Many districts and states have done a lot of work on revising and improving their teacher evaluation systems. Regardless of whether teacher evaluations tied to student test scores remains or not, we expect districts and states will continue making their educator effectiveness work a priority. After all, student growth and achievement is directly linked to educator effectiveness.