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Five Questions Education Reporters Should Ask About Teacher Evaluations

Back to Skills

EWA headed to the University of Chicago last month with about 50 reporters from across the country for some frank talk about teacher evaluations. You can catch up with podcasts of some of the sessions here.

We also spent some time brainstorming story ideas, and I wanted to share a few of them – not all of them – with you. (Hey, there has to be some benefits to in-person attendance, right?)

  1. One element of teacher evaluations can be to help identify – and either remediate or remove – the weakest teachers. Is your district using evaluations in this manner? What are the repercussions for a negative evaluation, and what percentage of teachers is actually receiving low marks?
  2. Evaluations require evaluators. Some states are requiring specialized training, and even certification, for evaluators. What are the requirements in your district? How many hours of training are evaluators receiving, how much does it cost, and who is paying for it? Consider sitting in on the training and then taking the certification exam.
  3. Should students’ perceptions of teacher performance be a factor in evaluations? What about input from parents? If so, how much weight should be given, and should the evaluations be anonymous?
  4. How are evaluation outcomes being used to shape and inform professional development? Are teachers getting meaningful feedback from their principals?
  5. Are districts using teacher evaluation data to inform their hiring practices? Specifically, are they tracking which local teacher training programs are producing the most successful educators? How are schools of education responding to the new evaluations when it comes to preparing their graduates for the classroom?

I recently had a video chat with Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, to discuss the advocacy group’s latest report on the state of teacher evaluations across the country. There have been some big changes since NCTQ’s last roundup in 2011, including a sizable jump in the number of states requiring student test scores to be a factor in judging a teacher’s classroom effectiveness. As of October only 10 states – Alabama, California, Idaho, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Texas and Vermont – had “no formal policy requiring that teacher evaluations take objective measures of student achievement into account.”

For more on covering teacher evaluations, check out the EWA Story Lab I wrote about how to approach this complex issue. You can also visit Story Starters, our online resource for reporters.

Have a question, comment or concern for the Educated Reporter? Email EWA public editor Emily Richmond at Follow her on Twitter: @EWAEmily.