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Gates Study Identifies 3 Best Ways To Evaluate Teachers

OPB | Jan. 9, 2013 5:18 p.m. | Portland

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One of the most exhaustive studies of teacher evaluations ever conducted delivers a message that’s not surprising to many educators. It concludes one-time classroom observations or student test-scores alone don’t draw accurate pictures of good teaching.

The $45 million study was funded by the Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It  looks at thousands of teachers in seven school districts, from Denver to Florida.

The study is called “Measures of Effective Teaching.” It found teachers were best judged in three ways: student test scores, surveys of students and consistent observations by multiple administrators.

The results are no shock to education advocates like Dan Jamison. He’s the vice-president of Portland-based non-profit, the Chalkboard Project.

He says the study provides a key to helping teachers become better educators – if it’s done right.

“Understanding the measures of effectiveness with agreement on observation, agreement on teaching standards and observing with some degree of consistency, we find that there is a shift in performance,” says Jamison.

Jamison notes that Oregon law requires all school districts to overhaul teacher evaluations by July.

That’s easier said than done, according to some in Oregon’s school community.

Craig Hawkins directs the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators. He says administrators and teachers favor this kind of multi-pronged approach. But Hawkins says it takes time and money to create and run such a system.

 “Multiple measures of educator effectiveness – not just looking at state test scores - multiple observations, quality feedback, etc. – really makes a difference,” Hawkins says. “The problem is there hasn’t been a single dollar provided to districts to do the work it takes to put the systems in place. And it’s very complicated, time-consuming work,” he explained.

The Gates study itself offers complicated advice.  It warns, for instance, that weighting test scores too much could lead to test score improvements, at the expense of other outcomes. 

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