Why are so few teachers rated unsatisfactory? See what principals say.

I wrote a blog last night about the failure of generous stipends to lure top-rated teachers to struggling schools, focusing on Fulton County’s $20,000 offer three years ago. As occurred in other districts that tried incentive pay, few Fulton teachers signed on, and the pilot was eventually discarded.

Fulton spokesman Susan Hale shared several reasons with me. I want to dig deeper into one of them – “the limitations of the tools used to identify high performing teachers (Student Growth Percentiles, TKES).”

Finding ways to identify and reward successful teachers has been on the national agenda for 20 years. Reformers complained virtually every teacher in America earned a satisfactory rating and charged such broad-brush reviews protected ineffective teachers and shortchanged their effective peers.

An oft-quoted source was the 2009 New Teacher Project  “Widget Effect” study, which found less than 1 percent of teachers were rated as unsatisfactory even though 81 percent of administrators and 57 percent of teachers could identify a teacher in their school who was ineffective. That study was held up in the legislatures across the country including Georgia as lawmakers pushed for greater honesty in teacher evaluations, a cause taken up the Obama White House. (Here is a good Education Week story on this issue.)

One of the reasons Georgia won a $400 million Race to the Top grant in 2010 was its pledge to tie teacher evaluations to teacher effectiveness. Speaking to the National Education Association in 2009, then Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called for teacher rating systems that weighted student test scores:

A recent report from the New Teacher Project found that almost all teachers are rated the same. Who in their right mind really believes that? We need to work together to change this…Data can also help identify and support teachers who are struggling. And it can help evaluate them. The problem is that some states prohibit linking student achievement and teacher effectiveness.

I understand that tests are far from perfect and that it is unfair to reduce the complex, nuanced work of teaching to a simple multiple choice exam. Test scores alone should never drive evaluation, compensation, or tenure decisions. That would never make sense. But to remove student achievement entirely from evaluation is illogical and indefensible.

In 2014, Georgia rolled out an eval system built on classroom observation and four ratings: exemplary, proficient, needs improvement and ineffective. Last year, the state relaxed the criteria, reducing the reliance on student test scores and granting principals more discretion in how many times they observe teachers.

With all the attention to an allegedly broken teacher evaluation system, are fewer teachers being graded as satisfactory?

Not really, says a recent study that examined revamped teacher rating systems in 24 states including Georgia and surveyed 200 principals.

There are finer gradations of teacher ratings around the proficiency level, but still few teachers earn the scarlet U for unsatisfactory. Only two states in the study, Maryland and New Mexico, rated more than 1 percent of teachers in the very lowest category of unsatisfactory/ineffective.

Why? While principals surveyed by researchers Matthew A. Kraft  and Allison F. Gilmour estimated 19.9 percent of teachers in their schools were below proficient in 2014-2015, there were a host of good reasons for them not to label them as such. In fact, the principals rated only 6.3 percent of their staffs below proficient.

Interviews revealed why school leaders were reluctant to ding teachers. These are excerpts from the report:

Time constraints: Rating a teacher as below proficient required intensive amounts of time to document their performance and to provide support for their professional growth. Several principals questioned whether they could collect sufficient evidence in a few observations to justify a rating below proficient. As a middle school principal with nine years of experience put it, “I just feel like sometimes you have to have a lot of detail before you can give somebody a Needs Improvement.” The increased requirements on evaluators of writing detailed improvement plans and conducting up to four unannounced formal observations for teachers whom they rated as unsatisfactory led some principals to use low ratings selectively. An elementary school principal explained: “There were some areas that they could have been needs improvement. Because I was focusing on two or three other teachers who really needed needs improvement. I gave them Proficient in those areas. I did it because I couldn’t tackle that many teachers at the same time as far as writing prescriptions and then following through on the work that I would need to do.”

Teachers’ potential and motivation: Principals reported that they sometimes factored in teachers’ potential when assigning an evaluation rating. For example, one principal spoke about giving new teachers more leeway: “A first year teacher, I tend to give a little more the benefit of doubt. Like, give you a little time, the opportunity to improve, here are some suggestions…Sometimes someone who’s fairly new teaching in the building, they are more apt to accept that feedback.” Principals felt that new teachers were still learning and that it was unfair to rate new teachers as below proficient if they were working to improve their practice.

Personal discomfort: One experienced principal nearing retirement articulated this view clearly: “The most difficult part of the job is probably to deliver those difficult messages, and not everyone is capable of that. That’s where administrators actually fall down is when they’re unable to deliver those type of messages.” Principals spoke about how there was “definitely emotion” involved in assigning below proficient ratings. A middle school principal told us, “I was pretty communicative and still people would be crying, or, ‘I can’t believe you think that.’’’  Principals were keenly aware that an unsatisfactory rating could lead to teachers losing their jobs. A first year high school principal said: “The last thing I think I want to do as a human being is to watch another human being walk out with their head down; dejected, because they just lost their job because they couldn’t do it. This is something that they wanted to do. That’s a little bit harsh, you know?”

The challenges of removing and replacing teachers: Several principals mentioned they also sought to avoid the “long, laborious, legal, draining process” of evaluating out a teacher. Although the evaluation reforms implemented by the district aimed to streamline the dismissal process, it is unclear whether these principals’ perceptions were accurate or a justification for not utilizing the new process. Two principals found it easier to remove teachers outside of the evaluation process. As one principal stated frankly: “I didn’t give her a negative evaluation in certain terms of then having to evaluate her out. That would’ve meant that she would have to stay in my school for another year and I had to go through the whole long process thing. She was clearly not going to work out anyway and she was going to leave. She agreed to leave.”

The researchers found troubling state variations in ratings, noting, “The wide variability in teacher ratings across states suggests that system design features as well as local norms and implementation practices play large roles in shaping ratings distributions. Differences in underlying teacher effectiveness alone cannot account for why 1% or fewer teachers are below proficient in Hawaii but 28.7% are below proficient in New Mexico, or why only 6% of teachers in Georgia and 9% of teachers in Massachusetts are above proficient but 62% meet this higher standard in Tennessee.”

 

Reader Comments 0

90 comments
Markie Mapo
Markie Mapo

Girls Club. Pure and Simple. We take care of our own. What's to eat in the teacher's lounge?

eliza
eliza

In the schools it starts with the principals.  There are many good principals, but there are some bad ones. Some principals do not have the skills or training to evaluate their teachers. Principals have to be able to help and support a teacher who may have a bad evaluation. When  principals do not have the skills to do that, it is hard for them to do anything but put down an "s".

Ugaboss
Ugaboss

To judge teachers based on test scores is unfair. It puts no responsibility on the student or the parent. This country needs to stop blaming teacher and accept the fact that some students do not want to learn and some parents do not care if they learn.

Happilyretiredmark
Happilyretiredmark

Some thoughts:

1. Documentation needed to fire a teacher is a nightmare.

2. Most schools hire local and hire family of present or past teachers/administrators/board members...its a good ole boy system if there ever was one and a principal that rates one of these teachers "low performing" might as well pack his/her suitcase and head out of town.  

3. Too much time spent on things other than academics such as sports, band....take a football player out of algebra because his schedule doesn't work...no problem.  Take the same football player out of weightlifting because he needs algebra and the counselor is packing his/her suitcase too.

In short...priorities are all messed up.

ATLPeach
ATLPeach

@Happilyretiredmark Football is extra curricular, band is co-curricular. Big difference. Kids aren't pulled out of class for band unless there's a field trip, however ALL subjects are able to take field trips if they choose. 

FlaTony
FlaTony

Measuring so-called teacher effectiveness through test scores is a pipedream. We should stop wasting money on the pursuit of the perfect teacher evaluation tool. Believe it or not, there is not a wide-spread conspiracy to hide the "bad" teachers. Most of the ineffective teachers leave the profession within the first couple of years.

Starik
Starik

@FlaTony Not in my experience. Test the teachers. Teachers can't teach material they themselves can't handle.

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

“However, the full distributions of ratings vary widely across states with 0.7% to 28.7% rated below Proficient and 6% to 62% rated above Proficient.”

“Our data provide a snapshot in time rather than a longitudinal trend or a causal framework for analyzing how evaluation reforms have affected the distribution of performance ratings.”

Each state teacher evaluation method the study considers manifests a ranking method of the business model kind applied to education.  Each is top-down, reductive, mechanistic, overly controlling, and just plain wrong for leading and managing any social system such as education.

“Export anything to a friendly country, except American Management.”

--W. Edwards Deming

The business model exported to education necessarily and unavoidably destroys the schoolhouse leader’s ability to lead for the purpose of continually improving teaching and learning as a system in the school.  Accordingly, the schoolhouse leader is required to believe some teachers MUST BE INEFFECTIVE TEACHERS and therefore his or her job is to find and get rid of such teachers.  If there are none, then his or her job becomes to make ineffective teachers.  Absent the business model in education, teachers and students and others on the frontline could instead be valuable ethnographic-wise informants and coaches to the schoolhouse leader.

Missing from the study is it having detected the state-level “snapshot” that represents a likely special situation, something either usual or unusual.

For example, New Mexico’s 28.7% rated below Proficient represents an unusual situation; that is, something special is very likely going on or went on with New Mexico.  Every other state-level percentage rated below Proficient represents a common situation and nothing unusual.  The state-level percentages rated below Proficient average 5.2 and vary naturally between zero percent and 12.9 percent (conservatively determined).

Similarly, no state-level percentage rated above Proficient represents an unusual situation.  Here, the state-level percentages rated above Proficient average 36.3 and vary naturally between zero percent and 73.5% (again, conservatively determined).  Thus the straight-line difference between Tennessee’s 62.0 percent and Georgia’s 6.0 percent does not represent anything special or unusual, contrary perhaps to intuition.

JeffTaylor
JeffTaylor

The principals who said it is icky and cringey to perform their jobs are fraudulent grifters. What do you think administration means, the parking spot up front? The remove and replace angle makes some sense. Every school engages in a conspiracy to deny it has bad teachers, it is just easier that way.

Astropig
Astropig

@JeffTaylor


Conspiracy is a very good word to describe the system. In any other industry,keeping the truth from the ultimate consumer of the service would be considered just that-a conspiracy.

Starik
Starik

@Astropig @JeffTaylor It's political correctness. Anybody who makes honest observations on teacher competency is at risk. Except for folks who are retired...

dsw2contributor
dsw2contributor

@JeffTaylor Principals can NOT hire and fire -- they do not have that authority. All Principals are allowed to do is document poor performance and make recommendations.  The actual decision to fire (non-renew) a Teacher gets made by a Principal's Supervisor and HR Departments.


In Dekalb, there are far too many teachers and staff who have remained on the payroll after they were caught assaulting children. No Principal wants those people at their school, but firing them would just mean more vacancies to fill and Dekalb is already short a few hundred teachers.  So the Principal makes a recommendation to fire and HR finds reasons why the bad teacher gets to keep their job.


The HR Director going AWOL for many months didn't help things either!

JohnGMorris
JohnGMorris

With respect to "teacher's potential and motivation", one principal spoke of giving new teachers more leeway.  In essence, the expectation for new teachers is lower than that of experienced teachers.  Though this still seems perfectly acceptable and normal in most work environments, it poses a problem in education.  First of all, one should still expect a new teacher to rate as proficient.  Second, some substantial measure of a child's educational outcomes depends on which teacher they end up with and one is given no choice on who the teacher will be. This latter problem highlights what I think is a significant structural flaw in how education is organized.  Namely, in what skilled profession is an employee with no experience given the same responsibilities as an employee with 15 years of experience, responsibilities, mind you, where outcomes matter?  Where else is a single point of failure tolerable?  Moreover, the whole evaluation process is suggestive of a profession lacking even modest oversight, mentoring, coaching, collaboration, and so on.  In short, from an outsider's point of view, teachers seem to lack most of the support structures that are normally found in well run work environments.  These support structures facilitate growth, provide continuous feedback, mitigate the adverse impact of errors and omissions (from novice and expert alike), and yes they weed out individuals that are ill suited to a profession. As a crude substitute, the education establishment offers four observations a year and testing. The later of these, if it works at all, tells us which teachers have failed a little or a lot in their duties at the end of the year -- less than proficient teachers may get a performance improvement plan and the students of that teacher just suck it up. How can anyone imagine this is an effective strategy? Does anyone need to be reminded that a kid only goes to kindergarten once?  


Honestly, it sometimes sounds like every teacher is operating in a one room school house.

Holly A. Howell
Holly A. Howell

There are fewer chances on the tkes system for teachers to succeed than fail. We don't set up students to fail, why do we set teachers up to fail? A smart principal knows this and everyone in a school is working their hardest with what they are given to work with. Teachers don't teach for the great paycheck!

ladygray1913
ladygray1913

At some point we have to REQUIRE parental involvement. Teachers should not be held accountable for not having the ability to effectively communicate with students who want to learn due to multiple students lacking discipline at home. More parents should partner with the educators instead of looking for free daycare. Just my experience!

Holly A. Howell
Holly A. Howell

Because they are working their butts off that's why!

Docin
Docin

Utilize the expertise of the department heads for evaluation purposes. Reduce their workload and give them more of a role in running their department. You have people doing classroom evaluations who have not been in a classroom in 20 years and in some cases have NEVER been a classroom teacher. This obviously does not fix everything but it certainly puts the people who are closest to what is going on in the classroom in a position to effect real change. 

RufusATL
RufusATL

What about those local school systems who "level" students.  Those teachers who "receive" all the low-leveled, challenged students are in a different boat from those teachers who have classrooms full of the higher performing students come evaluation time.  

Falcaints
Falcaints

Which is why teachers pay will never be based on test scores. Some teachers also don't teach EOC classes, so they have no test data.

elementary-pal
elementary-pal

@Falcaints Every course has a student growth measure that is determined by an EOC, EOG, or SLO/PPA.  Obviously, some of the measures are standardized and some are not, but the data is generated and used as a piece of the Teacher Effectiveness Measure. 


Please do not mistake this answer as a support for grading teachers based on the score of a hormonal 7th grader on one day in the spring of the year!  just saying!


Falcaints
Falcaints

I have been an educator for 23 years and I have never cared what I scored on an evaluation. I have always been more interested in how my students progress in their lives after school. What someone who spent three years in the classroom thinks of my abilities is really irrelevant.

Jmand65
Jmand65

Why do we always make the important evaluations on the teacher level?   What about evaluating the principals?  In my experience the bad ones just get moved around and then given a county position.  You can't rely on principals to make good evaluations because you cannot rely on the quality of the principals.

Starik
Starik

@Jmand65 Why can't we evaluate Principals based on the performance of their schools? I don't mean sports, I mean academics.

elementary-pal
elementary-pal

@Starik @Jmand65 We are evaluated on the performance of our schools - 60% of my final Leader Effectiveness Measure is based on student performance and growth.  


So, 60% of MY evaluation is based on what happens in classrooms, so how would it benefit me to NOT be honest in the formative and summative assessments of my teachers?


 It is my job to be in those classrooms helping, observing, giving feedback, and encouraging both teachers and students.  With more than 15 years in the classroom, I am well qualified for the job.  

Warren Heilman
Warren Heilman

The evaluator (principal) cannot be highly qualified in every subject area. In some cases the principal is evaluating something about which he or she knows very little. I was a band director. Most of the time the principal did not even understand the vocabulary I was using. How can this person errectively evaluate my teaching when they do not understand what is going on in the room?

Ashley Langford
Ashley Langford

I don't have to understand quantum physics to know if you're applying good teaching methods when teaching it to others. Student engagement and differentiation, assessment tools and uses, and professionalism are all methods of teaching that can be identified and applicable to any subject area, regardless of evaluator knowledge of the subject.

Lexie Kennedy Clutter
Lexie Kennedy Clutter

Ashley Langford - absolutely, but one of the standards assessed is directly tied to content knowledge.

CliffHiggins
CliffHiggins

Not exactly.  The specific example of band directing is a pretty different animal. 

elementary-pal
elementary-pal

@CliffHiggins Not really.  I am a principal with a minor in music.  I think music classrooms are perfect examples of daily formative assessment and use of assessments.  You don't let the band continue to play if it is wrong.  You stop them, find the problem, remediate, and go again.  You engage students from the moment they walk in the door.  You demonstrate your knowledge in your field, your professionalism, and your communication skills in every class period.  You differentiate, you monitor, you assess, you write plans.   It is easy to see even if you don't know the content.  Well, it is easy if you are doing all of these things.  You are, aren't you?

Chimiya Turn
Chimiya Turn

So, I don't quite understand why that is a measure. Don't teachers pass state exams on content knowledge? Seems like this would be proof enough.

gactzn2
gactzn2

This comment is in line with an earlier poster who observed that toxic leadership can often weaponize evaluation systems like TKES.  A teacher can present evidence of level 4 practices to administrators,and toxic leaders will summarily dismiss or ignore said evidence if it promotes 4 ratings.  

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@gactzn2 True across professions. I had a friend who was an editor at a newspaper that linked pay raises to numerical ratings. Hers were sent back to her with a note from the big boss saying, "Too many 4 ratings. Drop some of them down to 3s."

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

@Starik @MaureenDowney @gactzn2

Nice, like a lesson I learned long ago:  In response to my team having accomplished something remarkable, the brass asked, "Who is your best man?"  I refused to say and instead offered: "I have no 'best man.'  I have a team."  Still, there came the day I had to choose someone for promotion to become my assistant.  I recommended the guy whom I believed embodied sufficient intrinsic motivation to lead and care for the team as a system.  The brass went with my recommendation.  

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

Let me draw attention to our own resident researcher's comment on the report cited in this blog and again share the link. This study is very interesting and many of you may want to read it. Frequent blog contributor and UGA professor Peter Smagmorinsky wrote in a comment below: "...this study will be published in. Educational Researcher is one of the primary journals of the American Educational Research Association, has an acceptance rate for submitted articles of under 10%, has among the highest impact scores of any journal in the field of education (or any field), and has a global readership."


Here is the link:  (It is also in the blog itself.) 


http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/mkraft/files/kraft_gilmour_2017_widget_effect_er.pdf

Astropig
Astropig

To an outsider, this all looks like a giant exercise in self deception-Teachers that should get good evaluations don't,teachers that should be removed are not...It is like an open,totally visible scandal that no one inside the system has any incentive to lift a finger to change because it seems to create more winners than losers -if you totally ignore the students getting shortchanged,that is.The system lies to parents,the system lies to the legislature.The system lies to itself.


Go along.Get along.Just don't rock our boat.

Barry Russell
Barry Russell

The principal who doesn't hammer teachers on the TKES process ends up with better teachers because everyone wants to work for them. They can pick and choose the best teachers. Of course there are those who are not good teachers, principals and other teachers know who they are, they need to be removed.

Teacherboi64
Teacherboi64

If you really look at the TKES rubric, getting a 4 for each standard is impossible if the teacher is truly doing what the rubric indicates.  Even underperforming teachers know how to put on a dog and pony show when administrators come to observe.  One administrator in my building is known to fabricate observations for the "better" teachers, talk to them during their planning periods, and just have the teachers sign off on the observations, not even stepping foot in the classroom.  


There is no good solution for the teacher evaluation problem, and will never be one until teachers are treated as professionals in both pay and classroom autonomy.  Many more personal one-on-one conversations outside of the classroom could/should take place between administrators and teachers but don't, because administrators are too busy filling out paperwork or dealing with student issues.  Fix that and maybe more can/will be done with ineffective teachers.


Finally, let's face it, most administrators went into administration to get out of the classroom and earn a bigger paycheck, not to truly advocate for teachers and students.  There are many exceptions, but I feel pretty confident not enough to refute my claim.  Administrators can dog-and-pony with the best of them when they're being evaluated with LKES.  Thus, the cycle continues...

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@Teacherboi64 I was surprised when Georgia's original revamped evaluation process required six observations a year as it did not seem possible given the unpredictable nature of a school administrator's job. That has been tweaked, but the observation process still seems fraught with challenges around time constraints. I only requested a meeting with a high school principal once in my time as a k-12 parent and her first opening was more than a week later at 8 in the morning on a Friday. 

dsw2contributor
dsw2contributor

@MaureenDowney @Teacherboi64 Maureen,

Remember that Wallace Foundation Grant that Dekalb Schools won under Michael Thurmond?  Well, that money was used to train some Dekalb Principals (I'm not sure how many) in the National SAM Innovation Project (http://www.samsconnect.com/?page_id=2129).

I am not a Principal but my understanding is that Wallace & SAMS trained our Principals on how to effectively manage their time using some special scheduling software.  The software tracks their time and helps ensure that their time is being spent on tasks that make them and their schools effective.

I don't really understand how it works since I don't use it, but I have heard many rave reviews from Principals who do use it -- they use adjectives like "lifesaver" when talking about it!.  My understanding is that Gwinett and other high performing school districts use the exact same software /SAMS project.  I don't know if Decatur City uses the software, but if they do, that's probably the system that was able to tell you that the Principal would not be able to meet you until a week later at 8 on a Friday morning.

Tragically, "Out of Steam Green" abandoned the Wallace Foundation's program and is now refusing to license the software for another year.  He views billboards, Pow-Wows in Duluth and other fluff as being more important than providing Principals with the tools they need to do their jobs.

I really wish the AJC would do a follow-up story on how "Out of Steam Green" abandoned the Wallace Foundation's grant.  You reported on when Dekalb received the grant and the story about it is still on your website, so it only seems fair that you should also report on how Dekalb abandoned it.

E Pluribus Unum
E Pluribus Unum

Maybe the question should be phrased in

a different manner. After almost two decades

of emphasizing the quality of teachers in

a "right to work" state,why is the narrative

still focused on "ineffective teachers" when

the state of Georgia has tried  multiple

solutions that have often chased excellent

educators out of the profession?

creative
creative

@E Pluribus Unum I never heard that argument.  I may have missed it.  So people have said the fact that our teachers are not in a union (not forced to join anyway) means that they are better teachers?  And people have also said that states with strong teachers unions have terrible teachers?  Is this what you are saying?  

E Pluribus Unum
E Pluribus Unum

@creative @E Pluribus Unum

I am basically questioning whether more

"effective educators" have been driven away

from the profession than the "ineffective

educators" based upon policies that have

focused on educational solutions that assumed the worst in many individuals

within the profession. If a significant number

of "right to work" states have made numerous

reforms in education that have affected curriculum,testing and teacher evaluation

 over two decades and are still ranking in NAEP testing behind some "union" states, 

then maybe the narrative of a significant

number of ineffective teachers is the part

of the problem.


Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

You want to know who the "weak" teachers are?  Ask the 2nd grade teachers who the weak 1st grade teachers are.  And so on, and so forth.  It's the worst kept secret in the school.

Administrators could act on this information, and many do.  Unfortunately, there is a significant number who don't care as long as they have a warm body in the front of the classroom and they don't receive too many complaints.

Educrats and politicians have been trying to devise a magical formula to identify these teachers.  Plug in a few numbers into a spreadsheet and it spits out the names of the incompetent.  Sorry, it doesn't work that way in real life.

It's called Performance Management.  You cannot accomplish it by observing a teacher 4-5 times per year and looking at test scores.  You have to talk with people and you have to listen to what they are saying (and what your eyes are telling you).  Then, you have to have conversations with the underperforming teacher.  These conversations may not be pleasant, which is why some administrators avoid them.

Markie Mapo
Markie Mapo

@Lee_CPA2 Teachers always blame the previous teachers. Buck Passing is a required course in Teacher School. 

Shanon Woolf
Shanon Woolf

"The last thing I think I want to do as a human being is to watch another human being walk out with their head down; dejected, because they just lost their job because they couldn’t do it. This is something that they wanted to do. That’s a little bit harsh, you know?” It bothers me that teachers such as these were once college of Education students, where they made it through methods, an internship, and a handful of other classes where these teachers were required to teach, plan, develop, and work in tandem with a veteran, cooperating teacher actually delivering content to children of all ages. Let's not forget comprehensive exams at the end of it, too. While this particular statement is a "what if?" it's a shame that no professor, no cooperating teacher turned to these people and said, "Teaching may not be for you." Which is more harsh - a student having to change majors, or an adult being let go from his or her job?

RufusATL
RufusATL

Same problems for the college professor as for the principals or administrators in schools.

Starik
Starik

@RufusATL If you hire or supervise people you have a duty to evaluate people and do what you need to, regardless of how nice they are.

Chimiya Turn
Chimiya Turn

Being a student is different from being in the classroom though. So a person may have excelled in the education coursework and be unable to put this skills into practice.