Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children
Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

To evaluate teachers, school districts nationwide are considering how to use students’ test scores.  It’s a complex process that gets even harder in what a new report from the New America Foundation calls “the untested grades” of pre-k, kindergarten and first and second grades.

States are eager to find appropriate child assessment tools that can be used as part of teacher evaluations, the report notes. “In all, since 2009, 36 states [including Massachusetts] and DC have passed legislation or made policy changes to develop new or update existing teacher evaluation systems.”

The report — “An Ocean of Unknowns: Risks and Opportunities in Using Student Achievement Data to Evaluate PreK to 3rd Grade Teachers” — acknowledges how hard it is to assess young children, looks at current teacher evaluation practices, and offers a list of three recommendations and nine considerations that federal, state and district policymakers can use to design their own evaluation approach.

Report researchers looked at teacher evaluation efforts in five states (Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Rhode Island and Tennessee) and three school districts (Austin, Texas; Hillsborough County, Fla.; and Washington, DC). The report weighs the pros and cons of different approaches and offers recommendations for education leaders implementing teacher evaluation systems.

The report concludes that states have to find sophisticated, effective ways to assess early education. Regardless of the risks, “overhauling teacher evaluation systems must continue. The old way of doing things did not work for policymakers, principals, teachers and most importantly students. All students—especially at-risk students—deserve a well-trained, effective teacher who can challenge them, instill a love of learning, and help them develop the knowledge and skills they need for success in school and life.”