Education Week - July 19, 2017 - 7
Most principals avoid giving lower
ratings to teachers despite efforts in
states to make evaluations tougher, two
new studies show. New Mexico is an
outlier, with nearly 30 percent of teachers
receiving those lower scores.
TEACHERS RARELY RECEIVE
SOURCE: Matthew A. Kraft and Allison F. Gilmour,
"Revisiting The Widget Effect: Teacher Evaluation Reforms
and the Distribution of Teacher Effectiveness"
Percentage of teachers
Principals Are Loath to Give Their Teachers Bad Ratings
Most teachers still
rated as 'effective'
By Liana Loewus
Principals continue to rate nearly
all teachers as "effective," despite
states' efforts in recent years to
make evaluations tougher, two new
And there's good evidence that
those scores are inflated: When
principals are asked their opinions
of teachers in confidence and with
no stakes attached, they're much
more likely to give harsh ratings,
the researchers found.
That's in part because principals
want to maintain good relationships
with their teachers, which can be
tough to do when they have to confront them with bad reviews, the researchers say. For some principals,
though, the hesitation to give low
scores is a product of being strapped
"It's very, very time-consuming to
document poor performance," said
Marilyn Boerke, a former principal who is the director of talent
development for the Camas school
district in Washington state. "At
the end of the year, if you haven't
repeatedly gone into the classroom
and given the teacher suggestions
for improvements, it's not really fair
to give a poor evaluation."
In 2009, TNTP (formerly the New
Teacher Project) published a striking
report, "The Widget Effect," which
found that less than 1 percent of
teachers were being rated as unsatisfactory. Since then, many states have
worked to put more-rigorous evaluation systems in place, including by
incorporating student test scores.
But according to the pair of new
studies, little has changed.
"We've invested a lot in making
these systems rigorous, and yet they
still seem to identify the vast major-
ity of teachers as effective, especially
when you look at the observation ratings from principals," said Jason Grissom, an associate professor of public
policy and education at Vanderbilt
University, who co-authored one
study with Susanna Loeb, an education professor at Stanford University.
That study, published recently in
the journal Education Finance and
Policy, analyzed how 100 principals
from Miami-Dade County public
schools rated the same teachers in
two different settings: a confidential
one-on-one with the researchers and
the formal district evaluation.
On district evaluations, which
could have consequences for compensation and employment, nearly
every teacher was rated as "effective" or "very effective" on all the
standards measured. In the confidential setting, the scores were still
positive overall, but principals were
much more likely to give low ratings.
In fact, the teachers who received
scores of "very ineffective" on the
low-stakes assessment, on average
were deemed "effective" on the highstakes evaluation.
"The stakes here are really important," said Grissom. "When they
talk to the researchers, there are no
stakes attached-we're not going
to do anything, it doesn't count for
It makes sense a principal would
in that case give "a true assessment," Grissom said.
The tendency to be more lenient
on a district evaluation is understandable, said Jennifer E. Nauman,
the principal at Shields Elementary
School in Lewes, Del. "Somebody's
job is in your hands," she said. "The
rubric is very subjective."
Another study, to be published
soon in Educational Researcher, also
found a disconnect between what
principals said about their teachers
privately and in a formal review.
The researchers, Matthew Kraft,
an assistant professor of education
and economics at Brown University,
and Allison Gilmour, now an assistant professor of special education
at Temple University, surveyed
more than 200 principals in a large
urban district in the Northeast.
Again, evaluators identified far
more teachers as weak in a confidential survey than they did on the
formal district evaluations.
... [I]f you haven't
repeatedly gone into
the classroom and
given the teacher
not really fair to give
a poor evaluation."
Camas, Wash., School District
For instance, the 2014-15 data show
that evaluators perceived 19 percent
of teachers as below proficient-but
they rated only about 6 percent of
teachers that way on the district assessment.
Kraft and Gilmour's study also
looked broadly at teacher ratings in
24 states that had overhauled their
Nearly all teachers in most of
those states continued to get positive ratings. Hawaii was the least
likely to designate teachers as ineffective or needing improvement.
But New Mexico was an outlier.
There, about 1 in 4 teachers were
rated as either minimally effective
or ineffective, the state's two lowest
While nearly every other state
had less than 1 percent of teachers in the ineffective category, New
Mexico had 5 percent in that lowest
But how long New Mexico retains
its outlier status remains to be seen.
Teachers there have fiercely pushed
back on the stringent evaluation
policies, which have been dubbed the
toughest in the country. And the governor recently announced the state
would be making major changes to
A Matter of Time
So what's behind these almost
universally high ratings from principals? Some say it's the need for positive relationships with their staffs.
With the district evaluations,
"teachers know what the rating is,"
Grissom said. "In many systems,
that involves a post-conference. If I
gave you low ratings, that would be
very uncomfortable for me to talk to
you about. ... We have to take seriously the fact that teacher evaluation is a relational enterprise."
In interviews for the Kraft and
Gilmour study, principals talked
about personal discomfort as well.
One veteran principal is quoted in
the report as saying, "The most difficult part of the job is probably to
deliver those difficult messages, and
not everyone is capable of that."
But other principals not involved in
the studies push back on that notion.
"Those are challenging conversations, and you don't want to hurt
someone's feelings," said Boerke,
"but the principals I know do not
shy away from those conversations."
Dwayne Young, who was an administrator in Fairfax County, Va.,
for 17 years before recently retiring, said giving honest feedback
isn't hard for administrators-but
assessing the complex process of
teaching can be.
"Principals do strive to have great
relationships," he said. "But I don't
think they would not evaluate someone according to what they believe to
be really good instruction."
Concerns about teacher turnover
can also lead to high ratings, some say.
"It would be a rational response
for a principal to think, if I give this
person a low score, they might get
angry and leave my school," said
Grissom, "or they might be dismissed, and then I have to replace
this person, and I might be facing
a hiring pool that doesn't look appreciatively better than the teacher
who would leave."
Among the largest factors, though,
many say, is time.
"We're spread so thin as administrators," said Boerke of the Camas
school district. "When all's said and
done and it's June and you're responsible for submitting 32 evaluations, you'd err on the side of
effective if you don't have the documentation to prove ineffective."
Interestingly, a closer look at the
scores given in the high-stakes
evaluations showed that principals actually were differentiating
between teachers. They were just
doing so within the "effective" categories.
Even though nearly all teachers
got 3s and 4s (on a 4-point scale),
which labeled them "effective," the
3s seemed to be going to the weaker
teachers, Grissom and Loeb found.
And teachers with the lower evaluation scores also had lower valueadded measures-which aim to determine how well a teacher is doing
using student test scores.
"There is a difference between
a teacher rating of effective and
highly effective," Grissom said. "It's
just not the level of differentiation
that when these systems rolled out
people thought they would see."
EDUCATION WEEK | July 19, 2017 | www.edweek.org | 7